From: Reuters
Published January 31, 2008 06:42 PM

Hospital stays frequently endanger newborns: study

LONDON (Reuters) - Mistakes and other incidents in hospitals ranging from administrative errors to drug overdoses frequently endanger newborns and are often preventable, French researchers reported on Thursday.

Their study, which tracked all 388 babies born at a teaching hospital in southern France between January and September 2005, identified a total 267 incidents affecting 116 of the newborns.

The researchers defined an incident as anything that compromised the safety of a baby, whether it resulted from human error or if it was something like an infection that could not have been prevented.

"The high risk...draws attention to the importance of developing, testing, and implementing effective error-prevention strategies in pediatric medicine," Umberto Simeoni of the Division of Neonatology, La Conception Hospital in Marseille and colleagues wrote in the journal Lancet.

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The findings come after a recent U.S. study estimated that medical errors cause 44,000 deaths in the United States a year. The problem, however, is such studies have focused mainly on adult or older pediatric patients, Simeoni and colleagues said.

The researchers said about a third of the cases they identified could have been prevented with earlier monitoring -- for example, when babies removed their own breathing tubes. Two babies died but the researchers said neither death could have been prevented.

They also identified 24 cases involving drugs, 19 of them medication errors. Nine of these included 10-fold dosing errors that could have been dangerous, the researchers said.

"The scope of our paper is that we can track these incidents," Simeoni said in a telephone interview."

The biggest risk factors for newborn were low birth weight, length of hospital stay, having an intravenous line or breathing tube or being on a mechanical ventilator, the study found.

This was not surprising, Simeoni said, because these babies are weaker, more vulnerable and subject to longer hospital stays where the chance of something bad happening rises over time.

But the findings are important because they shed light on a high-risk group and underscore the need for hospitals to ensure they are minimizing unintended risks to newborns," Gitte Larsen and Howard Parker of the Primary Children's Medical Center at the University of Utah wrote in a Lancet commentary.

(Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Maggie Fox)

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