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OBJECTIVE: To estimate the extent to which obstetric malpractice claims might be reduced by adherence to a limited number of specific practice patterns.

METHODS: We examined all 189 closed perinatal claims between 2000 and 2005 from a single, large, professional liability insurer. Each case was subjected to three separate analyses: 1) whether the adverse outcome was caused by substandard care, 2) what changes in practice likely would have avoided the adverse outcome, regardless of standard-of-care considerations, and 3) to what extent did substandard documentation lead to payment in cases in which there was no objective evidence of substandard care.

RESULTS: Seventy percent of claims involving obstetric practice (accounting for 79% of all costs) involved substandard care. Payments in 85% of cases involving non-vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) fetal monitoring, 16% of maternal injury cases, 80% of cases involving VBAC, and 54% of shoulder dystocia cases were avoidable had four specific practice and documentation patterns been followed.

CONCLUSION: Most money currently paid in conjunction with obstetric malpractice cases is a result of actual substandard care resulting in preventable injury. Well more than half of hospital litigation costs might be avoided if physician practice included: 1) delivery in a facility with 24-hour in-house obstetric coverage; 2) adherence to published high-risk medication protocols; 3) a more conservative approach to VBAC; and 4) use of a comprehensive, standardized procedure note in cases of shoulder dystocia.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: III

(C) 2008 by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.