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Debate Rages About Continuous Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring

The Sacramento Bee reported this week on a new debate about the need for monitoring the heart rate of fetuses. As blog readers know, the monitoring of these heart rates is often important in allowing medical care providers to identify when there might be a problem with the child. Identifying fetal distress early and properly acting on it is vital to ensuring that preventable birth injuries are actually prevented. Failure to take appropriate action in these situations is at the heart of many birth injury lawsuits. In many ways it would seem completely logical for the monitoring to be conducted as thoroughly as possible.

However, some suggest that the constant monitoring actually causes more harm than good. They explain that the practice could result in unnecessary panic for both patients and doctors. Apparently, fetal heart rates can drop for a minute or two every four to five hours without other problems. There is then confusion about whether the physicians should intervene even though there are no other signs of distress. Short-live decelerations of the heart rate are occasionally a feature of pre-labor conditions, some argue. Therefore, they do not believe the pre-labor monitoring is necessary.

At the end of the day, the monitoring decision is mostly about finances. If the monitoring is not necessary, then many suggest that the resources of maintaining the monitoring should not be undertaken at the moment when it is unnecessary. This is a logical proposition, especially considering that healthcare costs have been steadily increasing over the years. However, it is vital that a proper balance be sought. It is inexcusable to pull the plug on the monitoring before it becomes especially clear that such monitoring truly provides little value to the patient. Also, it would be illogical to base the decision on the fact that some doctors might panic when a natural deceleration of the heart rate is spotted. Of course, the proper remedy if that is the motivation is not to remove the monitoring but to better train the physicians to understand what the proper course of action should be.

Our Chicago birth injury lawyers know that there is often a bit of confusion about these distinctions. It is one thing to make the general statement that errors are always going to be part of the medical process because humans are involved. That is likely true. However, it does not get to the root of the issue-or the legal question-about what the consequences of those errors should be. In other words, it may be true that errors will always exist, but those who make those errors are still required to compensate those hurt by the medical mistakes. It is not a legal excuse to say that a birth injury resulted because of a basic mistake that all humans make occasionally. If that is the case, then there is almost assuredly negligence that requires the wrongdoer to compensate the victim. The fact that an individual (or doctor) makes a mistake that leads to civil liability is not automatically a judgment from high about the overall quality of their work. Instead, it simply means that in this one particular instance they did not act properly and hurt another.

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