If done correctly, newborn screening can allow for early detection of severe disorders and save or significantly improve babies’ lives. The process involves sample collection, transportation, lab testing, results notification, and patient treatment. Errors can occur in any of these stages, leading to malpractice claims.
What Is Newborn Screening?
Newborn screening is a state-run health service done to check for rare genetic, metabolic, or hormone-related conditions in newborn children. More than 4 million infants are screened every year in the United States.
Typically, on the second day of a baby’s life, the heel is pricked to obtain a blood sample. The blood is collected on a filter paper card and sent to a state laboratory to be tested. The specific disorders that the sample is tested for vary by state. Some health problems commonly screened for include:
- Phenylketonuria (PKU)
- Sickle cell disease
- Congenital hypothyroidism
- Cystic fibrosis
- Maple syrup urine disease (MSUD)
How Newborn Screening Errors Occur
If newborn screening is not performed, tested, or reported properly, the disorders in some babies can be missed. As a result, the babies can experience severe health issues including serious illness, developmental delays, and lifelong disability.
Incorrectly collected or stored specimens can negatively affect newborn screening results. For example, blood spot cards are supposed to be air-dried for several hours. Some hospitals have been found to send the cards to laboratories while still wet, which compromises the samples. In an analysis of 31 states that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, only two states had 99% of the samples arriving for lab testing within three days of collection as per the recommendations.
Problems with newborn screening tests can lead to adverse patient outcomes. In Chicago, medical malpractice attorneys see a failure to diagnose as a common basis for pediatric claims. Delays or failure to diagnose can be caused by a newborn’s test results being unreported, unread, or lost.
Parents of a child diagnosed with a disorder later in life have a right to question how the newborn screening was handled. They may be dealing with the consequence of the negligent decisions and actions of medical professionals.