Because a diagnosis of brain death typically leads to life-ending actions through the withdrawal of life support, New York health care professionals must be completely sure when they make such a determination. Guidelines were implemented by the American Academy of Neurology in 2010 to facilitate accuracy in judgment in such cases. However, studies suggest that many hospitals are not adhering to these guidelines.

In one study, nearly 500 hospitals were analyzed regarding brain death policies between 2013 and 2015. In 43 percent of these facilities, attending physicians were allowed to make a declaration of brain death, which is in opposition to the AAN standards. While the AAN aims to minimize the potential for error in a situation where accuracy needs to be 100 percent, an inexperienced professional has a greater potential for making an incorrect diagnosis of brain death.

Although the study finds significant differences between AAN protocols and actual hospital policies, these policies were found to be more consistent with the guidelines than in the past. A compliance rate of 100 percent continues to be the goal so that misdiagnosis issues can be eliminated altogether.

Instances of hospital errors can range greatly in severity. In some cases, the consequences might be minor, but in others, deadly outcomes could follow. Even if death does not result from a medical error, long-term injuries could change the lives of those affected. Hospital policies and protocols can play a major role in the outcomes for patients by guarding against adverse actions and decisions.

Although a patient's condition might create a risk of serious complications or death, an affected family still might wonder if medical error has been a factor in that outcome. It may be helpful to discuss the issue with treating professionals and to examine the records related to care. If there is resistance to discussion on the part of health care staff, it might be worthwhile to talk about the situation with a medical malpractice lawyer.


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