Analysis of malpractice claims with a focus on oxytocin use in labour

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The objective of this study was to analyse the motives behind disciplinary action in obstetric malpractice cases concerning delivery, and to evaluate the frequency of inappropriate oxytocin use in these cases.


An analysis of all malpractice claims resulting in disciplinary action against physicians and midwives during the period 1996–2003. Investigations and decisions made by the Board of Medical Responsibility were reviewed with special focus on the use of oxytocin.


Of 77 cases, 60 regarded patients in labour. In the majority, there had been a normal pregnancy and spontaneous start of labour (78%). At the beginning of labour, 87% showed a normal fetal heart rate (FHR) pattern, indicating fetal well-being. In 70%, there was adverse fetal outcome with brain damage or death. The most common reason for disciplinary action was improper interpretation of fetal monitor tracings and corresponding failure to recognise fetal distress (76%). Injudicious use of oxytocin was common (68.5%), and was the primary reason for disciplinary action in 33% of the cases.


In a Swedish setting, a few common clinical problems pervade; interpretation of FHR patterns and the use of oxytocin account for the majority of rulings of negligence in malpractice cases regarding delivery. Analysis of the cases suggests that the adverse fetal outcomes could possibly have been prevented.

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