By: Matthew Sappern, CEO of PeriGen | June 29, 2019

Recently I had the privilege and opportunity to present at the 18th annual forum on Obstetric Malpractice Claims, a conference attended by defense AND plaintiff attorneys, clinicians, and risk management professionals. Despite the occasional barbs thrown between oft-opposing counsels, for the most part everyone was respectful and sympathetic for all the parties that operate in this emotional, often tragic corner of the legal profession. The stories of suffering cut across patients AND clinicians, and I was especially touched by a few anecdotes where plaintiff, defendant and counsel joined together after a verdict to try to comfort each other.

That said, it was equally clear to me that there are grossly spurious claims out there. One plaintiff attorney in particular tried to defend an argument by ignoring overwhelming medical studies to the contrary, and quoting soundbites from a paper I suspected was published by Bazooka Joe. Disturbingly, I was told that in front of a jury, that might actually work!

A segment entitled State of the Union in Obstetric Malpractice Claims kicked off the conference and it was eye-opening. War stories of recent cases and claims in NY, MA, IL, FL and GA of eight and nine figures set the stage. Statistics about the growth of mega verdicts as well as awards in the $3-$11 million range were disheartening. Even the good news – that frequency of OB cases were on a downward trend – was countered by an industry veteran who posited that the mega verdicts have created legal war chests which will start to be deployed against marginal cases and lead to rising frequency overall. The reinsurance market – expert at handicapping risk – is forcing health systems to assume greater risk within their captives and greater expense for coverage, creating CEO and board-level strategic and financial issues to be addressed.

The only point on which everyone seemed to agree was that nurses need some help. Some called for better training, but there were loud calls for better tools as well, which explains why I was invited. The panel my colleague and I spoke on was: New Technologies in Fetal Heart Monitoring: Developing Strategies for Proper Interpretation of Readings and We spoke of applying Artificial Intelligence to help nurses recognize warning signs more consistently and responsively. We have multiple studies in top journals showing improvement, yet as I travel the country speaking to CNOs and nurse managers, I occasionally hear “We don’t have bad outcomes here” or “technology will deaden my nurses’ skills and make them stupid,” an argument I and nurses should find insulting. But, not in THIS room. In THIS room, the overwhelming perspective was “give the nurses anything you can to help them at the bedside, and do it fast.” One of the presenters said it best “Bad outcomes may happen, but will be more defensible if clinicians have done all they can.” That includes adopting technologies that are proven and becoming ubiquitous in other industries.

Thankfully health systems are increasingly open to these new technologies. In fact, at a recent conference I met a number of patient safety officers who mentioned that they were considering building their own early warning systems for OB. They were relieved to hear that a commercial solution exists.

I have high hopes that in the coming years, this conference becomes less necessary and the focus turns from how to win cases to how to save lives and careers. I look forward to attending next year.