Inexpensive test could save newborn lives from congenital heart defects

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) account for nearly 30% of infant deaths due to birth defects. In the United States, about 7,200 (or 18 per 10,000) babies born every year have critical congenital heart defects (CCHDs, which also are known collectively in some instances as critical congenital heart disease.  See
Fortunately, there’s a test that can catch these heart problems before a newborn leaves the hospital, but too many hospitals across Florida are not using it. Researchers suggest that a pulse oximetry, a low-cost, non-invasive device that tests patients’ blood oxygen levels, is more accurate at detecting such heart conditions than a standard clinical examination, and it should be used as routine assessment in all newborns before they leave the hospital. The Centers for Disease Control has also recommended all that all newborns be screened for critical congenital heart disease using the pulse oximetry to prevent mortality and morbidity.
The American Heart Association demonstrated the heart screening on a couple of two-week-old babies to show how easy it is to perform. The group is pushing proposed legislation that would require all hospitals to administer the screening on newborns.
Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Louis St. Petery has seen babies leave the hospital in apparently good health but then within a few days take a serious turn for the worse because of a congenital heart defect.  “Kids with those small percentages will frequently come back to the hospital a few days after discharge and they’ll be dead or they’ll be at near death because they have the kind of defect where if certain changes occur after birth, which are normal, they lose all oxygen supply to their body.” Dr. St. Petery said the test has just recently come to light as a great way to find undetectable heart problems. He said some hospitals already use it, but he wants all newborn nurseries to do the screening.
St. Petery said the test costs just pennies and if a newborn returns to the hospital because of complications from a heart defect, the cost is much higher. “Thousands of dollars, and if the baby dies, what’s the cost to that family? And if the baby is brain-damaged, what’s the cost to that family and to society? It’s so simple it’s crazy not to do it.”
The bill was introduced in the last legislative session but didn’t go anywhere. See Florida Senate Bill 2012-1052  and Florida House Bill 48068  
First Coast News: Saving Newborns with a Simple Test
ABC News: Universal Heart Screening Recommended for Newborns 
A large number of medical malpractice lawsuits stem from the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of a medical condition, illness, or injury. When a doctor’s diagnosis error leads to incorrect treatment, delayed treatment, or no treatment at all, a patient’s condition can be made much worse, and they may even die. That being said, a mistake in diagnosis by itself is not enough to sustain a medical malpractice lawsuit.  In this scenario, a plaintiff would have to argue that with the massive amount of statistics that support the use of a pulse oximetry, the lack of use was negligence on the part of the hospital. In particular, the failure to perform the pulse oximetry  test prior to discharge failed to reveal the CHD and that ultimately resulted in the injury and/or death of their child .  The question would be whether the prevailing standard of care indicated that a the pulse oximetry test should have been performed and it was a deviation not to perform the test,  that the test would have helped to diagnose CHD and the baby’s health outcome would have been different.  Regardless,  medical malpractice cases are highly complex and fact specific, so it’s often essential to get advice or representation from an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.
If you have questions regarding the care your newborn received prior to discharge or need information on other types of birth injuries, please contact us at (904)399-1609 or online at

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