Shocking Claim: Hospitals May Be Incorrectly Determining Brain Death

Posted on January 13, 2016 by Shapiro Law Group


A new study published in the medical journal JAMA Neurology has alarming implications for patient safety. According to the study, some hospitals might be falsely declaring patients brain-dead. Brain death is a medical term used to describe an irreversible neurological state where brain function no longer exists. The new study suggests determining brain death might depend on hospital policies.

Hospitals across the country have differing policies for determining brain death. Under some hospital policies, certain conditions known to cause the illusion of brain death are not ruled out. For example, 44 percent of hospitals do not require doctors to check for low blood pressure, which can create the appearance of brain death. This revelation is problematic for patient safety because some of the conditions mentioned in the study are treatable.

The study also discovered some hospitals use unqualified staff to determine when patients are brain-dead. At some hospitals that participated in the study, nurses or physician assistants declared patients brain-dead.

Why Accuracy is Important for Determining Brain Death

This study suggests a possibility, but not a certainty, that some hospitals are declaring patients with hidden neurological functions as brain-dead. If that is true, patients who are capable of improving are being denied a chance to survive. There is no excuse for a wrongful diagnosis of brain death, as guidelines already exist for avoiding these errors.

In 2010, the American Academy of Neurology released guidelines that were meant to become uniform policies at hospitals across the nation.

Tags: PatientSafety


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