Iatrogenic nerve injury in a national no-fault compensation scheme: an observational cohort study

A E Moore, J Zhang, M D Stringer
International Journal of Clinical Practice 2012, 66 (4): 409-16

BACKGROUND: Iatrogenic nerve injury causes distress and disability, and often leads to litigation. The scale and profile of these injuries has only be estimated from published case reports/series and analyses of medicolegal claims.

AIM:   To determine the current spectrum of iatrogenic nerve injury in New Zealand by analysing treatment injury claims accepted by a national no-fault compensation scheme.

METHODS: The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) provides national no-fault personal accident insurance cover, which extends to patients who have sustained a treatment injury from a registered healthcare professional. Nerve injury claims identified from 5227 treatment injury claims accepted by the ACC in 2009 were analysed.

RESULTS: From 327 claims, 292 (89.3%) documenting 313 iatrogenic nerve injuries contained sufficient information for analysis. Of these, 211 (67.4%) occurred in 11 surgical specialties, particularly orthopaedics and general surgery; the remainder involved phlebotomy services, anaesthesia and various medical specialties. The commonest causes of injury were malpositioning (n = 40), venepuncture (n = 26), intravenous cannulation (n = 21) and hip arthroplasty (n = 21). Most commonly injured were the median nerve and nerve roots (n = 32 each), brachial plexus (n = 26), and the ulnar nerve (n = 25). At least 34 (11.6%) patients were referred for surgical management of their nerve injury.

CONCLUSIONS: Iatrogenic nerve injuries are not rare and occur in almost all branches of medicine, with malpositioning under general anaesthesia and venepuncture as leading causes. Some of these injuries are probably unavoidable, but greater awareness of which nerves are at risk and in what context should facilitate the development and/or wider implementation of preventive strategies.

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