Tag Archives: birth

Hospital reduces neonatal fatalities by 50%

By Kim Smiley

Infant mortality rate is often used as an indication of a nation’s health and social condition.  When reviewing the data for different countries, it becomes obvious that for a wealthy, developed country, the United States has a high infant mortality rate. According to the CIA World Factbook, the US infant mortality rate is 6.2 deaths per 1,000 births, which is nearly twice that of France, Italy and Spain. Additionally, the US ranked 60 for maternal deaths in a study for the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The good news is that healthcare providers are working to improve care and help reduce preventable injuries and deaths during childbirth.  Obviously, access to prenatal care, overall health of the mother and other factors play a role in birth outcomes, but some relatively simple solutions targeting labor and delivery care have proven to dramatically increase birth outcomes.  A new report “Solutions in Sight” by the nonprofit Public Citizen lists some of the successes in improving birth outcomes.

One particularly impressive case is that of Ascensions Health, which reduced its neonatal fatality rate by 50% across its 43 hospitals by implementing relatively cheap, common-sense solutions.  Ascension did a number of things to help improve birth outcomes such as improving training and communications.  Drills were done to practice how staff should respond in a variety of emergency situations to help medical personnel identify and quickly respond to potentially dangerous scenarios.  There was also focus on communication between personnel to help ensure there were no misunderstandings in high pressure situations and to encourage all staff members to speak up if they perceived a dangerous situation.

Additionally, they worked to develop “bundles” of services, which are packages of procedures that have been shown to produce the best results.  Bundles are essentially guidelines for how staff should respond in a variety of situations.  There was also an emphasis on reducing C-section deliveries that weren’t medically necessary because these types of births are associated with a higher rate of complications. None of these solutions were earth-shattering, but they have proven effective when consistently implemented.

In additional to the clear benefit of saving lives and reducing the number of potentially life-long injuries, improving birth outcomes has economic benefits.  Better birth outcomes reduce the likelihood of expensive lawsuits. This example is a classic win-win where doing the right thing actually saves money in the long run as well.

Many of us do not spend our days delivering babies, but this example has many lessons that can be applied across industries.  Learning how to provide effective, realistic training can dramatically improve performance.  Empowering employees at all levels to speak up when something doesn’t look right can save lives, whether it’s in a factory or a hospital.  Formally documenting and using best practices so employees can benefit from others’ experience can streamline many processes and reduce preventable errors.  Sometimes the simple solutions really are the most effective.

Typically, a Cause Map is built when something has gone wrong, but it can also be used as a proactive tool to help understand why something has gone right.  To view a high level Cause Map of this example, click on “Download PDF” above.  Another example of a proactive, positive Cause Map is the Miracle on the Hudson, where all passengers survived a plane landing on a river.

Infant Death Due to Infection from Water Birth

By ThinkReliability Staff

A recently-released study in the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal discusses causes of the death of an infant from legionellosis (commonly known as Legionnaires’ disease) apparently due to a contaminated tub used for a home water birth. While the tub had been disinfected since the birth (and so did not test positive for legionnella), it is believed that the source of the infection was the tub the baby was born in.

The investigation into the baby’s death discusses various issues with the home water births along with solutions. According to the study, Findings from this investigation revealed a gap in the standardization and implementation of infection control practices for midwives during home water births. . . recommendations included use of standard written procedures for employees and clients before, during, and after the water birth. These procedural documents were suggested to outline proper timing of tub filling to reduce proliferation of microorganisms, documentation of client awareness of possible risks when deviating from written procedures, and laboratory testing procedures to be followed when birthing tubs are suspected of being contaminated with Legionella or other pathogens.” The specific cause-and-effect relationships that led to the contamination and infant’s death can be viewed in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, by clicking “Download PDF” above.

The birthing tub in this particular case was filled with private well water two days prior to the birth. Upon filling, enzyme-based, non-FDA-approved water purifying drops were added to the water and the water was kept warm and circulated in the tub until the delivery. The tub used was a recreational-grade, jetted tub with internal tubing that is not approved for use as medical equipment and is particularly difficult to disinfect.

There were no procedures provided by the midwifery center that discussed required steps before and during the water birth, though this is not uncommon. The study found that, although most certified nursing midwives supported water birth, only 30% had received training.

Shortly after the infant’s death, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a joint statement saying that water births should be avoided (see our previous blog on this topic). It’s unclear whether or not information regarding the infant’s death in January 2014 was known prior to the statement released in March, 2014, though one of the concerns with water births (along with drowning) was the possibility that the infant could obtain an infection from a water birth.

Over the summer, another infant developed legionellosis from a birthing pool in England, and the National Health Service banned the use of home birthing pools with built-in heaters and recirculation pumps. Internationally, there were no other cases of infants developing legionellosis from water births since the late 1990s.

Though water births or the use of specific types of birthing equipment have not been banned in the US, birthing in a tub is discouraged. The CDC study recommends that procedures and training about cleaning and the disinfection required before and during water births be developed and disseminated through the midwifery community and potential clients. While legionellosis in infants is rare, it is believed that additional cases may be discovered with better surveillance.

Read more: Fritschel E, Sanyal K, Threadgill H, Cervantes D. Fatal legionellosis after water birth, Texas, USA, 2014. Emerg Infect Dis [Internet]. 2015 Jan 7. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2101.140846 DOI: 10.3201/eid2101.140846



US Doctors Issue Statement That Mothers Should Avoid Water Births

By Kim Smiley

The number of water births in the United States has been increasing in recent years and controversy over their safety continues to rage.  The latest development is that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently issued a joint statement saying that water births are not recommended and should be avoided, but some midwives and mothers disagree and adamantly defend the benefits of birthing in water.  The doctors agree that soaking in water during early labor may make the experience more pleasant for mothers, but feel that actual birth should be outside of the birthing tub.

One of the issues is that the benefits of water birthing are difficult to prove and the potential risks are difficult to quantify .  Some mothers believe that birthing in water helps relieve pain and can aid in a drug-free delivery.  Supporters of the practice also think that birthing in water can shorten labors, which reduces stress on the mother and the baby.  Some midwives have also expressed a belief that water births are gentler on babies, saying that many do not cry when they are born.  It’s difficult to definitively study the impacts of water births because birth outcomes depend on so many factors and you can’t do a double-blind study because it’s pretty much impossible to have a placebo for a water birth.

There have been reports of individual cases where something went wrong during a water birth, but there is little information on how often this occurs.  There is general agreement that complications are rare, but the doctors  releasing the statement feel the risk of complications outweighs the benefits.  The most serious concern is the baby drawing its first breath underwater, which could lead to breathing issues and even drowning.  There is also a risk of umbilical cord ruptures since the baby must be brought to the surface relatively quickly and the cord may be too short.  There is also increased risk of infection for the mother and baby since they are both exposed to potentially contaminated water because birth can get messy.

Until now, there has been little formal guidance provided about water births.  Providing more information for expectant mothers is a great first step, but disagreement between medical professionals about birthing methods can add confusion to an already stressful time.  Until more studies are done to provide a better understanding of the risks involved, women will have to rely on their own judgment and the guidance of their healthcare provider.

To view an Outline and Cause Map of this issue, please click “Download PDF” above.

Interpretation of Electronic Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring

By ThinkReliability Staff

Electronic fetal heart rate monitoring (EFM) is used to determine fetal distress.  When fetal distress is indicated, intervention and/or early delivery are generally performed.  Because of this, EFM is performed frequently, even in low risk births.  However, EFM has a high rate of false positives, resulting in unnecessary surgical intervention, which can impact both patient safety and an organization’s goals, especially as the rate of cesarean sections continue to increase.  One of the causes for these high rates of false positives is the variable and inconsistent interpretation of EFM data.  This is in itself an impact to the patient services goal.

This produces a highly simplified version of the Cause Map, but leads to a cause that has significant opportunity to provide improved results.  Specifically, the cause of “variable and inconsistent interpretation” suggests that guidance for more consistent interpretation may aid in reducing unnecessary surgical intervention due to false positives from EFM.

With guidance provided from the American Family Physician, we can create a process map to aid in the use of EFM.  A process map shows the steps and decision trees involved in a process, attempting to guide practitioners towards accepted best practices.

EFM is used continuously for high risk patients and intermittently for low risk patients  unless abnormalities occur.  There are three types of patterns produced by EFM: reassuring, non-reassuring, and ominous.  (Definitions for these patterns, as well as high risk patients are also from the American Family Physician).  Reassuring patterns generally are found to correlate with fetal health, and indicate that the delivery can continue.  Ominous patterns should lead to evaluation for immediate delivery.  Non-reassuring patterns are found between the two – and so lead to the most difficulty in interpretation.  Specific steps are outlined to be taken in the case of non-reassuring patterns which attempt to normalize the pattern.  Additionally, specific tests are recommended to attempt to determine the cause.  If the cause can be determined and corrected, continuous monitoring should accompany an attempt to continue the delivery.

If the pattern is not normalized, evaluation for immediate delivery should occur.  There is no decision tree at this stage  because the decision on whether (and how quickly) to perform delivery must be determined based on the patient’s specific state, based on the knowledge of the practitioner.  Although some steps remain subjective, attempting to fit those that are not into a process map can improve the odds for everyone.