Study: Half of pediatric medical errors could be avoided

Where is the line between honest mistake and medical malpractice?

Having a child develop a serious health condition is high on the list of nearly every parent's worst fears. But what if, in the course of being treated for that condition, the child is harmed by an error on the part of a doctor or nurse? What if that error was completely preventable?

As shocking as it seems, this happens much more often than you might realize. In fact, a recent study found that almost half of pediatric medical errors could have been avoided.

Details of the study

The study, whose findings were published in MedPage Today, was conducted by researchers based out of the Children's National Health System in Washington, D.C. They reviewed 600 patient charts from six different children's hospitals. Each patient had stayed in the hospital for at least 24 hours; the median stay was four days.

The researchers found a rate of approximately 40 "harms" per 100 patients. About a quarter of patients experienced at least one harmful event, and about 8.5 percent experienced more than one. These harms included adverse events such as infections, surgical complications, IV catheter burns, respiratory distress and elevated pain levels.

While hospitalization does carry some inherent risk to the patient, the researchers found that approximately 45 percent of the harms discovered were either "potentially or definitely preventable."

What is medical malpractice?

Not every error by a doctor or nurse constitutes an act of medical malpractice. Generally speaking, under New York law, malpractice exists when a medical professional breaches his or her duty of care to the patient by deviating from the accepted standard of care. In other words, it's not enough to simply show that a mistake was made. The patient must also show that a reasonable doctor or nurse operating under the same or similar circumstances would not have made the same error.

Further, it must be shown that the medical professional's breach of duty caused the patient to suffer some amount of harm. For example, the patient might have lost use of part of the body, lost wages from missed work, or experienced significant pain and suffering.

What to do if you've been harmed by a medical error

Medical malpractice cases are complex, and it is usually quite difficult for a layperson to determine whether he or she has a valid claim. Further, it is important to understand that state law places limitations on the amount of time a person has to file a claim after an error occurs.

For these reasons, it is a good idea to speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible after you become aware of a medical harm. The attorney can review the facts of your case and advise you on your rights and options for moving forward.

In the New York City area, the attorneys at Godosky & Gentile, P.C. provide free initial consultations to victims of medical malpractice. If you or your child has been injured by a medical error, contact our office to set up a time to discuss your case.

Keywords: medical malpractice, medical errors, pediatrics