Patient Safety Issues in the NICU

Close up photo of a newborn's feet in a hospital.

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is a specialized unit in a hospital where newborns receive intensive care. The NICU is a critical environment as the patients are vulnerable and often require round-the-clock monitoring and complex medical interventions.

Patient Safety Issues Unique to the NICU

Newborn care in the NICU can be a life-saving and transformative experience for parents and babies alike. However, this environment also presents unique challenges.

Patient Vulnerability

The vulnerability and size of infants in the NICU pose a unique challenge when it comes to safety. There is little to no margin for error during treatments, procedures, or dose calculations, and even the slightest error could put the newborns at risk.

Patient Misidentification

Studies have shown that approximately 1 in 10 infants in the NICU experience misidentification errors, which can have devastating consequences. Errors included ordering the wrong tests and medications, administering incorrect medications, feeding the wrong breast milk, and performing unnecessary medical procedures on the wrong infant.

Miscommunication Amongst Care Teams

With larger care teams involved in the NICU, communication breakdowns are unfortunately all too common. Whether it's a misinterpreted medical order, lack of clarity in treatment plans, or insufficient information transfer, the result can harm the infants. Like patient misidentification, communication breakdowns can lead to medication errors, incorrect dosages, and missed medical procedures.

Top Medical Errors in the NICU

Mistakes in the NICU can have serious consequences, and it is critical to understand the most common errors to help prevent future occurrences.

Medication Mistakes

Administering medication to an infant is a complex process that requires careful attention to detail. Dosage errors, administration of the wrong medication, and a lack of proper monitoring are often the most significant causes of medication errors in the NICU. These mistakes can result in serious harm to a newborn, such as brain damage, seizures, or even death.


Diagnosing an ailment in a newborn is a challenging and complex process. A misdiagnosis can lead to inappropriate treatment and delays in identifying and treating the proper medical condition, which can result in harm or even death to a newborn. It is crucial for the medical team to communicate clearly and work together to ensure the best possible outcomes for the infants in their care.

Surgical Mistakes

Surgery in a NICU requires careful monitoring and precision. It can be challenging to perform surgery on a fragile infant, and surgical mistakes can have significant consequences. The most common surgical errors in the NICU include incorrect incisions, anesthesia errors, and operating on the wrong body parts.


The NICU environment is a breeding ground for infections. Infants in the NICU have an immature immune system, making them vulnerable to infections, including antibiotic-resistant infections. Poor infection control, failure to follow hygiene protocols, and contaminated equipment can all lead to the spread of infections.

Related Reading

Your Guide to Birth-Related Malpractice

Maternal Mortality Statistics You Should Know

Injury Attorneys Dedicated to Your Case

The NICU is an incredibly complex and delicate environment where errors can be catastrophic.

If your child has been harmed due to a medical error in the NICU, it is essential to seek the services of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. At Curtis & Co., we have been helping families obtain justice following injuries and fatalities for decades.

We handle complex cases on behalf of people throughout New Mexico and are prepared to fully explain your legal rights and options during a complimentary case review.

Call (505) 871-3740 or contact us online today to learn more. Hablamos español.

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