An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs outside of the womb, typically because the fertilized egg fails to move from the fallopian tubes into the uterus.
Ectopic pregnancies are life-threatening for the mother, and require emergency treatment.
When a doctor or other healthcare provider fails to follow the accepted standard of care regarding a possible ectopic pregnancy, the patient (or the patient’s family) may have a medical malpractice case. In these cases, the patient or her family may be awarded damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Standard of Care
If an ectopic pregnancy is suspected, the generally accepted procedure is to check pregnancy hormone levels and conduct an ultrasound scan of the uterus and surrounding area.
However – ectopic pregnancies often require more than one visit to the emergency room, because initial tests may not be conclusive. Hormone levels and other blood tests may not show conclusive signs of an ectopic, as opposed to a normal, pregnancy. Doctors may also be confused as to how far along the pregnancy is, because an ectopic pregnancy can result in higher hormone levels typically expected later in the pregnancy.
Furthermore, an ultrasound may initially show a false gestational sac in the uterus. Doctors may see the mass and believe it is a normal pregnancy, rather than an ectopic one.
Both of these factors make it more difficult to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy.
Therefore, if the first round of tests are not conclusive, the patient should be rechecked every 24-48 hours to make sure there is no ectopic pregnancy. This is the established standard of care.
If the patient is told to come back for another round of tests, and fails to do so, the healthcare provider is probably not at fault, from a legal perspective. They were given the correct medical advice, and failed to follow up.
However, if the provider fails to tell the patient to come back, and there is an ectopic pregnancy that ultimately requires emergency treatment, she may have a legal case against the provider. In these cases, the provider should have told the patient to follow up with additional tests to rule out an ectopic pregnancy, per the standard of care.
This is especially the case if the patient dies, or suffers permanent damage to reproductive organs making conception impossible in the future.
Whether there is a medical malpractice case also depends on whether the treatment and outcome would have been different if the doctor had followed the accepted standard of care. This in turn depends on how far along the ectopic pregnancy is before it is finally diagnosed, and how much sooner doctors should have detected it.
If you believe you may have an ectopic pregnancy case, please contact us! We can give you a free consultation with a lawyer and doctor with more than 20 years of emergency room experience.