Although most infants are born without significant complications, the rate of birth injuries in the United States is still quite alarming. Approximately 7 out of every 1,000 American infants suffer some type of birth injury. That means that there are about 28,000 birth injuries each year in the U.S., which is an average of 76 each day, and around 3 each hour. Advances in technology, however, could prove to significantly reduce the number of serious birth injuries suffered.
Neonatal MRI Technology
Many complications that arise during the birthing process must be identified immediately so that medical intervention can begin right away to avoid more severe or even deadly injuries. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a tried and true technology has been shown to be extremely effective at detecting a number of serious issues in newborns including but not limited to:
- oxygen deprivation
- seizure disorders
- permanent brain damage
- cerebral palsy
Unfortunately, MRI technology has not been utilized for neonates very frequently because of a few difficult hurdles. One of the most significant issues is that traditional MRI machines are very large and heavy pieces of equipment that are frequently located on lower levels of hospitals- sometimes even in basements. Neonatal units are typically located away from other patients on upper levels of traditionally designed hospitals. In many cases, what might seem like a simple trip from one floor to the next can prove to be extremely dangerous to the newborn, putting him or her at increased risk for stress and other health complications. Thanks to recent advances in technology, however, this massive hurdle might soon be eliminated. Newly developed, smaller neonatal MRIs that are designed specifically for use with newborns and can be located inside the NICU area are currently being tested. If these new MRIs receive FDA approval, they could significantly reduce the complications that arise due to delayed diagnosis.
Electronic Medical Records
A large number of birth injuries are caused by things like medication mistakes and other preventable medical errors. Electronic medical records (EMRs), which are being used in hospitals throughout the United States, have been shown to help reduce medical mistakes that cause serious, disabling, or even deadly birth injuries. In fact, a recent study revealed that EMRs have the potential to save approximately 6,400 babies every year in the United States. Some of the reasons EMRs are so effective at reducing medical errors include:
- Improved Access: EMRs enable physicians and other medical staff to more easily access critical information about their patients. Since test results and other important health records are contained in EMRs, health care providers can often review lifesaving information with the click of a button or the tap of a touchscreen.
- Communication: Miscommunication between physicians and medical staff is significantly reduced when EMRs are used during pregnancy and delivery.
- Alerts: These systems are designed to draw attention to possible medical mistakes like medication errors. Since medications are typically scanned into the EMR system, care providers are alerted to any dosage issues, unsafe medication combinations, and allergies that could pose a serious risk to the mother or the unborn child.
Electronic Fetal Monitoring During Labor
During labor, most women who deliver their newborns in modern hospitals are hooked up to Electronic Fetal Monitoring (EFM) equipment. An EFM is designed to monitor the unborn baby’s heart rate and the mother’s contractions as labor progresses. By tracking the progress of the delivery process and the baby’s vital signs, physicians and other health care providers are enabled to more effectively detect serious fetal distress that could lead to significant birth injuries.
In most cases, Electronic Fetal Monitoring is done by placing monitoring devices externally along the mother’s abdomen. As labor continues, the mother is able to listen to the baby’s heartbeat and the strength and frequency of contractions are recorded. In some situations, however, external monitoring fails to accurately track the contractions or the vital signs of the baby, and internal monitoring is sometimes suggested. A heart rate monitor is then attached to the baby’s scalp and a contraction monitor is placed inside the uterus. Although this is a more invasive procedure, it helps to ensure that the unborn baby is not showing signs of distress.
While some individuals claim that electronic fetal monitoring increases the risk for physicians “jumping the gun” and performing unnecessary labor interventions like c-sections, a 2011 study published in the American Obstetrics and Gynecology Journal revealed that out of the one million births that were analyzed, EMR use contributed to a significant reduction in birth injuries like cerebral palsy and neonatal fatality.
Although advances in medical technology cannot eliminate all birth injuries that cause significant damage, disability and fatality, there is certainly strong indication that recent advancements have reduced the rate of incidents throughout the United States.