Severe Injury to Baby at Birth

By ThinkReliability Staff

In November 11, 2005, a woman in labor checked in to an Army Medical Center in Hawaii.  The mother was placed in the care of a second-year medical resident.  The fetus showed signs of distress throughout the day, and “took a turn for the worse” at approximately 5:00 p.m.  However, the child was not delivered until nearly 6:00 p.m. when the fetus was “almost dead”.  The baby was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and was turned over to another team.  On this team, a first-year intern placed an oxygen tube incorrectly, resulting in oxygen being delivered to the baby’s stomach instead of her lungs for approximately 40 minutes.  The child now has severe brain damage and the family was awarded a $11 M settlement for her care.   This is the fourth large settlement this hospital has made relating to errors made from 2003-2007, with an average of $11M per year to settle the lawsuits.

There are several  impacts to the goals of the medical center; namely, the impact to patient safety resulting from the injury to the child, the impact to the organizational goals from the settlement, the impact to patient services from the delay to the birth, and the impact to the time and labor goal for additional work required as a result of the issues with the child.  Our analysis begins with these impacts to the goals.

The injury to the child was caused by a lack of oxygen, caused in part from insufficient oxygen before the birth and in part because of insufficient oxygen after the birth.  The baby did not have sufficient oxygen before birth because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and her birth was delayed, due to a “lack of communication” between the second-year resident and her supervisor who were charged with the mother’s care.  More detail on this lack of communication is not currently available; however, from the perspective of the  medical center involved, this is a key place where more detail needs to be added to the Cause Map once it is available.

The baby had insufficient oxygen after birth because the oxygen tube placed to increase her oxygen levels was feeding into her stomach rather than her lungs.  The tube was misplaced by a first-year intern who was being insufficiently supervised.  (Note that the reports don’t say this anywhere, but if you have an intern under supervision who places a tube incorrectly, you can conclude that the supervision was insufficient.)  Note this is another area that requires more detail for the investigation to be complete in order to find effective solutions.  As with any investigation the level of detail in the analysis is based on the impact of the incident on the organization’s overall goals.  Because of the extremely high impact on patient safety, the analysis for this issue should be quite detailed.

Brain Damage Resulting from Aggravation of Underlying Mitochondrial Disorder by Childhood Vaccinations

By ThinkReliability Staff

The Federal Court Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation (DVIC) ruled on November 9, 2007 that a child’s parents would receive compensation due to a vaccine injury.  Recently the amount of compensation was named – $1.5 million plus $500,000 a year for treatment.  There has been much discussion about what the award means.  With a charged issue such as this one, wording is very important.  The court’s wording in this case is as follows:

“DVIC has concluded that the facts of this case meet the statutory criteria for demonstrating that the vaccinations CHILD received on July 19, 2000, significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder, which predisposed her to deficits in cellular energy metabolism, and manifested as a regressive encephalopathy with features of autism spectrum disorder.”

With a very careful reading of the court’s decision, we can put what the court determined was applicable to the case in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.  (I’ve also recorded the chronological information in a timeline, used to assist with our understanding of the issue.  The information from the timeline is also from the ruling.)

First we can enter the impacts to the goals in the outline.  The patient safety goal was impacted because a child wound up brain-damaged (or with encephalopathy).  The resulting payment of over $1.5M is an impact to the financial goals of the vaccine injury board.  Based on the ruling, the vaccines aggravated an underlying condition, which can be considered an impact to the patient services and environmental goals.   Additionally, in this particular circumstance the child received vaccines not on schedule.  This could be considered an impact to the compliance goal.

Beginning with the most important goal – patient safety – we build the Cause Map.  The patient’s encephalopathy was determined to have been caused by an underlying condition that was aggravated by the receipt of vaccines against 9 diseases all at once.  However, the link between this and the encephalopathy isn’t yet clear.  Rather than just stopping our Cause Map, we can add a “?” in the middle of the cause-and-effect relationship, and highlight this unclear relationship.  This allows us to focus our attention.  Even with this question mark in the middle of the map, we can still do a lot to clarify the cause-and-effect causes.

For example, based on the child’s physicians’ diagnoses, we know that the underlying condition was a  mitochondrial disorder.  We also know that the child received vaccines against 9 diseases at once because she was behind on vaccines, having skipped some doses while she was ill.

Even with the uncertainty surrounding this analysis, the Cause Map can still provide clarity to the issue. It can also help lead to possible solutions (though adding more detail will allow for even more).  For example, doctors may adjust catch-up vaccination schedules based on this incident, resulting in fewer vaccines being given at once.

Whooping Cough Deaths

By ThinkReliability Staff

Amidst an epidemic of whooping cough (or pertussis) in California, which is the worst since 1958, eight infants have died of the disease.  Infants are prone to catching whooping cough when they are exposed to it, as they have not completed their first round of inoculations and have weak immune systems.  Because the symptoms of early sickness are so mild, whooping cough is very difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone.   In each of the cases of the eight deaths, the infants had been seen by multiple care providers before an appropriate diagnosis was made.

 Exposure to infants is generally from parents or school-age siblings, who may themselves not know they are infected because of the mild symptoms.  Because the protection from the vaccine that protects against whooping cough lasts only about 5 years, many adults may find they’re no longer properly immunized against the disease.  Some children have never been immunized against whooping cough because their parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children.  Because of the lack of immunity of some members of the community, and the difficulty of diagnosing whooping cough, the problem may continue unless steps are taken.

Some of the solutions being considered are to not allow unvaccinated children to school.  The responsibility of this would fall to school or state officials.   Recommendations are made to keep vaccines for children and adults up to date, but this responsibility ultimately lies with the individual and/or parent.  This may make healthcare providers feel somewhat helpless.  But a recommendation for them has been given – children less than six months old who present breathing difficulties should be given lab tests that would show whooping cough.  This would not prevent infants from getting whooping cough, but would ensure that the disease is discovered, and so can be treated, as soon as possible, hopefully reducing deaths.

Patient Physically Assaulted

By ThinkReliability Staff

On June 24, 2010, a patient at a Maryland Hospital was physically assaulted by security guards after trying to leave the hospital.  A patient who is injured or killed due to physical assault is one of the ‘Never events’, i.e. medical events/errors that should never happen.

We will look at the causes of this event in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.  The information used to put together this analysis is from the legal filing.

On June 23, 2010, a man (who we’ll call “the patient”) was in a serious car accident and was airlifted to a Maryland Hospital.  He woke up the next day, after receiving treatment for blunt torso trauma and chest pain and asked for something to eat.  After some confusion, the patient realized that his identification bracelet was not his – it identified a female patient 13 years his junior.  At this point, he decided to leave the hospital and was stopped with a verbal and physical exchange with several security guards.  He eventually was able to leave successfully, and was treated at a second hospital for broken ribs, a sprained shoulder, a ruptured spleen, and a concussion.

As mentioned before, physical abuse of a patient is a “Never event”, and is an impact to the compliance goal.   More importantly, there was injury to the patient, resulting in an impact to the safety goal.   Because the patient was wrongly identified as needing surgery to remove a cancerous mass, there was the potential for the patient receiving unnecessary surgery, also an impact to the safety goal.  The patient has taken legal action against the employees involved (Employee Impact goal) and has filed a lawsuit against the hospital for more than $12 million (an impact to the organizational goal).   The misidentification of the patient can be considered an impact to the patient services goal.

We begin our Cause Map with these impacted goals.  The patient was beaten because employees were trying to restrain the patient to keep him from leaving, and restrained him in an inappropriate manner.  The employees were trying to get the patient to stay because they believed he needed surgery because he was misidentified.  At this point, the hospital involved should be asking “Where did our identification procedure go wrong?”  The next step in the investigation should be to look at the identification procedure to determine specifically which steps allowed the misidentification to happen.  Only once this is determined can appropriate corrective actions be taken to prevent future misidentifications.

Another area that requires more analysis is the patient restraint procedure.  The security guards in this instance were attempting to restrain the patient to prevent him from leaving.  However, they did this in an inappropriate manner.  The question is, why?  Were the guards not following the existing restraint procedure? If not, why not?  Or, is there no procedure for restraint?  Were the restraint expectations not clearly provided to the guards?  Again, until the specific breakdowns leading to this incident are uncovered, corrective actions will be generic and may not be effective.  To view a one-page PDF showing the investigation at this point, click on “Download PDF” above.