Bill to promote timeliness in newborn screenings advances
The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee recently advanced a bill intended to assist states to improve newborn screenings. Newborn screenings test babies for serious but treatable conditions. Testing methods include:
- A heel stick test, which is a blood sample taken from a baby’s heel that tests for a wide variety of genetic disorders.
- A hearing screen, to test for deafness.
- A pulse oximetry test, which measures a baby’s oxygen saturation. A lack of oxygen in the blood can indicate a lung disease or other serious medical condition.
States vary in the number of conditions required by law that hospitals must test. In New Jersey, the law requires every baby born in a hospital be tested for 54 conditions, among them endocrine disorders, hemoglobin disorders and other disorders such as Cystic fibrosis and congenital heart disease.
Delays in results causing harm to newborns
An investigative report by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last November found that many hospitals delay reporting screening results to hospitals. In looking at nearly 3 million samples, the Journal Sentinel found that hundreds of thousands of blood samples from newborn babies arrived late from labs. According to the Journal-Sentinel, about one in 800 babies have a genetic disorder that can be cured, treated or managed if a hospital checks the blood sample early.
About half of all states require newborn screenings. Unfortunately, many hospitals still see delays. For example, some hospitals will save on shipping costs by delaying some samples to ship in batches. This can mean that babies with severe disorders are sent home without first seeing their blood sample results. With some conditions this can be severely disabling or fatal to the baby. In New York, for example, only 60 percent of blood samples arrived within 48 hours, as state law requires. Hospitals in New York received no fines or sanctions for delays.
The importance of timely blood samples cannot be overstated. In New Jersey during “superstorm Sandy,” police went into local hospitals to retrieve samples when UPS shut down because of the storm – yet some hospitals still see delays in the state. New Jersey did not release state data to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, so it is difficult to estimate the number of delayed results seen in the state.
Many hospitals cite economic reasons for delays in obtaining results of screenings. Some hospitals use the U.S. Postal Service to save on shipping costs. Yet a delayed diagnosis can have devastating physical, emotional and economic consequences. If the bill proposed in the House passes it may help reduce the number of delays in hospitals. Until then, however, people who have suffered a delayed diagnosis should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss their legal options and get help with living expenses and medical costs associated with the delayed diagnosis.