There are over 17,000 medical malpractice claims filed every year in the United States. This of course does not equal the amount of medical errors that occur every year and does not include the number of cases that go unreported.
But, new studies into medical negligence and malpractice is shining a light on the specifics of these fatal errors. New research published in the December issue of Women’s Health Magazine reveals that sexism in healthcare is literally killing women. Researchers at George Washington University analyzed data from the National Emergency Medical Services Information System database, which included 2.4 million patients, half of which were women. The patients were spread out across 46 states and the data set focused on people over the age of 40 with a high risk of heart disease and cardiac arrest.
The study found that women are less likely than men to be resuscitated, given aspirin, receive cardiac defibrillation, or taken to the emergency room in ambulances. While the differences in treatment were small, there is concern about the differences in treatment and the detrimental side affects it could cause. Women were less likely to receive “evidence-based therapies” while in an emergency room than men.
A new report published in National Geographic highlights the alarmingly high rate of maternal death in the United States – about 14 deaths for every 100,000 live births. This places the United States as the second worse developed country for maternal deaths. Even more alarming is that African-American women are about three times as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes as white women, and more than 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable.
William Callaghan, Chief of Maternal and Infant Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says “When deaths are reviewed and we see what the contributing factors were, there are so many instances where communication was not carried out correctly, where people didn’t recognize urgency, or when the patient wasn’t listened to, or the delay in reaction.”
Such was the case with Kira Johnson, who died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center following the scheduled c-section birth of her second child in 2016. In a lawsuit filed by her husband Charles, Kira was healthy following her operation. At around 4pm, Charles noticed blood in her catheter. Over the next several hours and as her condition worsened, her catheter was changed, and tests were ordered. By 12:30am, Kira was rushed into surgery and died on the operating table. The Medical Board of California ultimately found her surgeon grossly negligent in her death. A lawsuit against the hospital is still pending.
Closer to home in Tampa, FL, Crystle Galloway died only a week after her third c-section. Galloway collapsed in her home and an ambulance was called. Exactly what happened in the minutes between when medics, dispatched for a possible stroke victim, arrived at Galloway’s home and when she was evaluated at an emergency room three blocks away is under investigation by Hillsborough County. Galloway’s mother, Nicole Black, claims that paramedics did not check her daughter’s vital signs or transport her to a hospital. Instead, she drove her daughter to an emergency room. She was later transferred via helicopter to Tampa General Hospital, where she slipped into a coma and died 5 days later.
Cases such as Kira’s and Crystle’s highlight the potential bias in medical care. Are women’s complaints taken less seriously than men’s? Are women not taking enough of an active role in advocating for their own health and medical care? Better and sustainedhealth care support during mothers’ pregnancies and after they give birth seems a logical solution to help lower U.S. maternal mortality rates. Routine protocols and procedures, such as measuring blood loss or administering high-blood-pressure medication when needed, which facilities sometimes ignore or delay, may help reduce the number of maternal deaths in the country. But, above all, medical facilities and providers need to listen to their female patients and their families when providing routine or emergency care. Women need to listen to their bodies, trust their impulses, and speak up for their care.