New Study on Preterm Infants Causes Debate Within Medical Community

A study reviewed the survival rate of infants born at 22 weeks of gestation.

A new study recently published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine is fueling debate in the medical community. The study reviews the survival rate of extremely preterm infants and ultimately concludes that differences in hospital practices for infants born from 22 to 24 weeks of gestation explain variances in survival rates. Essentially, the differences refer to hospital procedures regarding the level of medical care provided to these preterm infants. Various media outlets are reporting on this study, with some claiming it demonstrates a new "viability age" of 22 weeks.

An obstetrician-gynecologist reporting for Time Magazine countered these claims, noting that data for the study found only 5 percent of the infants delivered at 22 weeks of gestation survived. The medical professional was calling for those interpreting the study to refrain from overstating the odds viability for extreme cases of preterm delivery.

More on the Study

The study reviewed infants born between April 2006 and March 2011 in 24 hospitals throughout the United States. Data was gathered from 4,987 infants that were born before reaching 27 weeks of gestation. Ultimately, the research found that infants born at 22 weeks of gestation did not survive without medical intervention. In 78 cases of those born at 22 weeks who received active treatment, 18 survived. By the time these 18 infants were young toddlers, seven did not experience moderate or severe impairments.

In comparison, 542 of the 755 infants born at 23 weeks were given treatment. Approximately one third of this group survived and half of the survivors developed without significant impairments.

Implications of the Study

According to The New York Times, the study is "one of the largest and most systematic examinations of care for very premature infants." Physicians are currently encouraged to consider infants born at 23 weeks of gestation "potentially viable" and offer intensive medical treatment. The study brings into question whether infants born at 22 weeks should receive similar treatment. The piece also notes that approximately 18,000 infants are born extremely preterm, with about 5,000 ranging from 22 to 23 weeks of gestation.

Medical professionals are expected to discuss medical options with mothers who are at risk for preterm delivery. Physicians that fail to recognize that a patient is at risk for potential preterm labor may put their patients and the unborn infant at risk of injury. Those who believe their physician was negligent in delivering prenatal care or in the labor and delivery process and that this negligence led to an injury may be eligible for a medical malpractice claim. Contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss your legal options and better ensure your legal rights are protected.

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