One would hope that hospitals are doing everything they can to make sure mistakes do not occur when declaring a patient “brain dead.” However, a recent study reported by NPR found that several hospitals’ in-house policies for determining brain death are inconsistent – in fact, some may have even ignored guidelines designed to minimize errors. This discovery is disturbing, to say the least, especially if a patient is declared brain dead and when he or she is not.
Doctors should do what they can to ensure everything is done right, especially when declaring a patient’s condition. A set of guidelines were originally written in 2010 by the American Academy of Neurology, which recommended that every hospital follow them when declaring patients brain dead. These guidelines detailed how physicians should determine brain death and what requirements were necessary before an official diagnosis could be given.
To assess if the guidelines were adopted and how well they were working, the policies of 492 hospitals and health care systems across the country were assessed. While most hospitals successfully adopted and fully implemented these policies, researchers found that there are significant variances in which guidelines were actually used and how they were implemented. The findings were reported in the JAMA Neurology.
What the Research Concluded
More than 20 percent of those policies did not require a doctor to check if the patient’s temperature was high enough for a proper assessment; this is something that the guidelines specifically requested. Because a person’s brain function can be suppressed when his or her body temperature is too low, checking the patient’s temperature is a great way to verify whether he or she is really brain dead or not.
Researchers also found that more than half of the implemented policies did not require the doctor to ensure that the patient’s blood pressure was adequate enough to assess brain function. Also, some policies allowed physicians to skip tests like this that the guidelines specifically recommended.
In addition to these findings, they also found that a large majority of the policies did not require a neurologist, neurosurgeon, or even fully-trained physician to declare the patient brain dead. In some hospitals, a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant – someone with absolutely no training in neurology – was allowed to declare brain death.
Based on these findings, it is apparent that hospitals need to reassess their policies and refer back to the original guidelines. With so many guidelines being ignored, the likelihood of several patients being falsely declared brain dead is obvious.
Was Your Loved One Declared Brain Dead?
If your loved one was declared brain dead, but that declaration was in error or without proper testing, you may have a valid malpractice claim against the physician or facility that issued the diagnosis. Contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation. Call 866-479-7909 or contact us online to get started.