Prenatal blood tests carry potential errors

Expectant mothers in New York may have heard that prenatal blood tests have been developed that can detect traces of fetal DNA in a mother's bloodstream, which can help detect genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome in fetuses. The blood tests are much less invasive than tests such as amniocentesis that carry minute miscarriage risks. However, the new tests may not be as accurate as the invasive procedures, and this has raised some concerns. In fact, members of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics question whether the procedures should even be termed "tests," preferring them to be referred to as "screenings."

Although medical errors in the results are rare, they are being reported in more frequency than expected. Such results can be perplexing to expectant mothers and doctors alike and, in worse case scenarios, could lead to healthy babies being aborted. In one notable case, a New York woman received a false-negative report for Down syndrome by one such testing unit. The blood test cleared the fetus of Down syndrome, but further testing later showed the fetus did indeed have Down syndrome. The woman ended up terminating the pregnancy.

The tests are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Medical specialists say that the new prenatal blood tests predict risks of fetus abnormalities rather than offering definitive results. Some specialists advice having a follow-up amniocentesis test to confirm any results received from prenatal blood tests.

Ensuring accurate test results is important for doctors, hospitals and patients. Doctor errors can lead to medical malpractice lawsuits. Patients who suffered complications or who decided to terminate their pregnancies due to medical errors may be entitled to compensation. Medical malpractice attorneys help people determine whether or not they have grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit and then help them compile and present evidence that their conditions or events were caused by preventable errors.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Tough calls on prenatal tests," Christopher Weaver, April 3, 2013

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