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Delays at hospitals undermine newborn screening programs, putting babies at risk of disability and death

January 5, 2016

Nearly every baby born in the United States has blood collected within a day or two of birth to be screened for dozens of genetic disorders. The entire premise of newborn screening is to detect disorders quickly so babies can be treated early to prevent death or brain damage, disability and a lifetime of costly medical care.

Yet one of newborn screening’s most important requirements — speed — is ignored for tens of thousands of babies’ tests each year, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis of nearly 3 million screening tests. The samples should be sent to a lab within 24 hours, but they were not. Instead, samples sat at hospitals for a few days, a week and some samples were even lost.

At least 160,000 blood samples from newborn babies arrived late at labs across the country, according to the newspaper’s analysis of screening tests from 31 states. Other scary findings included:

  • Labs in half the country are closed on weekends and holidays, meaning babies born later in the week could have their results delayed two or three days, postponing diagnosis and increasing harm to affected children.
  • In nearly three-quarters of the country, hospitals are supposed to send samples using overnight delivery or courier services. Yet some hospitals still send blood samples through the U.S. Postal Service’s regular mail. It saves them money.

What can new parents do to help avoid a newborn screening error? Ask your doctor if newborn screening was done. Confirm that the hospital sends the samples to the lab within 24 hours. Do not wait for the six week visit to find out the results-call your pediatrician’s office and ask if your baby’s newborn screening was normal.  If your baby was injured or died because of an error made in newborn screening, please contact us at 1-877-695-8757 or fill out the form at the top right hand side of this page for a free, confidential consultation from an experienced malpractice lawyer.

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