Reducing obstetric litigation through alterations in practice patterns

Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Dec;112(6):1279-1283. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0b013e31818da2c7.


Objective: To estimate the extent to which obstetric malpractice claims might be reduced by adherence to a limited number of specific practice patterns.

Methods: We examined all 189 closed perinatal claims between 2000 and 2005 from a single, large, professional liability insurer. Each case was subjected to three separate analyses: 1) whether the adverse outcome was caused by substandard care, 2) what changes in practice likely would have avoided the adverse outcome, regardless of standard-of-care considerations, and 3) to what extent did substandard documentation lead to payment in cases in which there was no objective evidence of substandard care.

Results: Seventy percent of claims involving obstetric practice (accounting for 79% of all costs) involved substandard care. Payments in 85% of cases involving non-vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) fetal monitoring, 16% of maternal injury cases, 80% of cases involving VBAC, and 54% of shoulder dystocia cases were avoidable had four specific practice and documentation patterns been followed.

Conclusion: Most money currently paid in conjunction with obstetric malpractice cases is a result of actual substandard care resulting in preventable injury. Well more than half of hospital litigation costs might be avoided if physician practice included: 1) delivery in a facility with 24-hour in-house obstetric coverage; 2) adherence to published high-risk medication protocols; 3) a more conservative approach to VBAC; and 4) use of a comprehensive, standardized procedure note in cases of shoulder dystocia.

Level of evidence: III.

MeSH terms

  • Compensation and Redress / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Dystocia / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence
  • Humans
  • Malpractice / economics
  • Malpractice / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Obstetrics / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Pregnancy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States
  • Vaginal Birth after Cesarean / adverse effects