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Study sheds new light on brain injuries in babies

Finding out that your newborn has a brain injury is perhaps one of the most traumatic pieces of information that any parent can hear. In many cases, this can lead parents to blame doctors and hospitals for potential mistakes made during delivery. But while a large portion of medical malpractice lawsuits have successfully proven hospital negligence, a new study is highlighting the fact that this might not be the case all of the time.

In a document called Neonatal Encephalopathy and Neurologic Outcome, researchers outline the fact that not all brain damage in infants is a direct result of a birth injury. In some cases, brain damage can result because of a mother’s health problems or even genetics. It’s knowing the difference between brain damage caused by these other factors and an oxygen deficiency that will help guide future medical malpractice cases down the road.

Researchers point out that one of the best ways to determine the origins of a brain injury are through M.R.I. scans. A causal link can be made between hospital negligence and the injury if a scan is abnormal days after birth. If the scan is abnormal on the day of the baby’s birth, then it’s more likely the injury happened before birth.

Because this new study points out many of the issues associated with brain injuries in newborns, it will have a two-fold impact on our society. On one side, it may help reduce medical errors by changing standards for the delivery process. But on the other hand, it could create potential legal problems for parents who may have a legitimate negligence case. If a timeline after birth is not accurately established then it may be difficult to pinpoint when the injury occurred. This can create pushback from hospitals who may not want to pay out for their mistake, which would leave any parent unsure of what to do next.

Source: The New York Times, “Hurt Before the Birth,” Jane E. Brody, May 5, 2014

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