Pediatric malpractice can cause severe damage at a very early age. The child will have to cope with the resulting complications for the rest of his or her life. For this reason, compensation awarded in pediatric malpractice cases is substantially higher than any other form of medical malpractice.
Pediatric Errors in Early Childhood
Some pediatric mistakes occur during surgical procedures, but most pediatric malpractice cases stem from misdiagnosis. This is partially due to the difficulty a child has of adequately expressing all symptoms. It is the pediatrician’s responsibility to make the child feel comfortable and safe. The pediatrician should ask the child a long list of almost repetitive questions to fully understand what the child is experiencing and should take extra care to be gentle during examination.
While diagnostic errors can occur for any medical ailment, there are certain cases that are exceptionally difficult to identify in young children. These cases tend to have very generic symptoms and may require extensive testing to properly diagnose.
Misdiagnosis of Inflammatory Diseases
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that protect the spinal cord and brain. It can be caused by an infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms. In rare occasions, meningitis has also been a side effect of certain drugs. Meningitis is a medical emergency, due to the proximity of the inflammation to the brain and spinal cord.
Symptoms may include:
- Stiff neck
- Intolerance to light or loud noises
Nonspecific symptoms may be the only indicators of meningitis in small children, making it exceptionally difficult to diagnose. Headaches, irritability, and drowsiness could be signs of many different ailments. A pediatrician should test the child with a lumbar puncture if meningitis is even a remote possibility.
Pneumonia is an inflammatory disease of the lung. It mainly affects the lung’s microscopic air sacs, or alveoli. When very basic symptoms are present in children, pneumonia can easily be misdiagnosed as bronchitis, COPD, or tuberculosis.
Symptoms can involve:
- Cough, producing mucus
- Mucus may be rust-colored, green, or tinged with blood
- Shaking or chills
- Fast, shallow breaths
- Lethargy or weakness
- Chest pain when coughing or inhaling
- Fast heartbeat
- Nausea and/or vomiting
A pediatrician will need to conduct a physical exam of the child. Chest X-rays are common in the diagnostic process. Questions about medical history are also important, and further testing may reveal more serious conditions such as lung cancer, heart failure, or acute bronchitis.
Appendicitis is characterized by appendix inflammation. Acute cases cause severe pain, while the non-acute form is simply known as “rumbling appendicitis.” Many cases of acute appendicitis require removal of the appendix and are classified as medical emergencies. If left untreated, the appendix may burst. This leads to peritonitis and shock, making the mortality rate of appendicitis very high.
Symptoms can include:
- Dull pain in upper abdomen or near navel
- Extreme pain in the lower right abdomen
- Abdominal swelling
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Painful urination
- Problems with bowel movements
- Severe cramps
Many vague appendicitis symptoms are very similar to other medical issues such as Crohn’s disease, gastritis, intestinal infection, gallbladder problems, and bladder or urinary tract infection. Diagnosis typically involves abdominal or rectal exams, urine tests, blood tests, ultrasound scans, and CT scans.
Childbirth and Infant Injury
Developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) is also known as congenital dysplasia of the hip, or hip dysplasia. It occurs when there is a misalignment or deformation of the hip joint or when the connective tissues are too loose, allowing the femur to wobble. Dislocation is the worst form of DDH. It can result from abnormal position of the fetus while still in the womb and during delivery. It is important for an obstetrician to identify the issue in an attempt to minimize any adverse effects for the child.
Congenital brain damage is a type of brain injury that occurs during childbirth. It can cause congenital hydrocephalus (CSF), epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and a slew of other medical issues. While symptoms vary according to specific results of the congenital brain damage, there are signs of heightened risk for infant brain injury.
Infant brain injury risks include:
- Bleeding in the fetus before birth
- Infections in the mother, such as rubella, cytomegalovirus syphilis or toxoplasmosis
- Other birth defects, such as spina bifida or severe jaundice
- Incorrect use of forceps during delivery
- Unsafe position of fetus in womb or during delivery
- Incompatible blood Rh between mother and infant
- Oxygen deprivation of the brain
The obstetrician should be aware of any incidences that may heighten risk for congenital brain damage. Serious damage will result in unnecessary suffering for the rest of the child’s life. If a doctor fails to identify or act upon certain risks, medical malpractice may occur.