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Legislation could prevent treatment delays for infant illnesses

After anticipating the arrival of a new family member for several months, Tennessee residents cherish the opportunity to witness the birth of their children. In the immediate wake of the delivery, parents rely on medical professionals to conduct tests and make observations to ensure the health of their newborn baby.

Infant children are typically subject to a quick blood draw sample shortly after being born. Analyzing this blood sample can help diagnose genetic disorders that are treatable, but fatal if they're not detected in a timely fashion. Of course, treatment depends on the accuracy and timeliness of test results.

Not long ago, federal lawmakers moved forward with legislation to reauthorize a program that supports and monitors state-based newborn testing programs. One critical aspect of this year's reauthorization is the addition of a measure of timeliness in assessing program quality.

Late last year, a report from the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal found that many of the newborn's blood samples were late in arriving at the labs where tests are completed. At a critical stage of development, like infancy, delaying medical treatments by even a day or two could have a profound health effect. Unfortunately, there have been documented infant deaths that have resulted from delays in lab testing.

Specifically, the report took a look at the status of newborn testing in Tennessee. Three critical pieces of information were gathered:

  • Sample delivery method: In Tennessee, any form or speed of blood sample delivery is acceptable.
  • Lab hours: Labs in Tennessee only operate five days per week.
  • Deadline: Hospitals aren't required to send blood samples within any specific timeframe.

These three components of blood testing can significantly alter the speed by which results are conveyed to medical professionals. Unfortunately, certain aspects of Tennessee's policies could be detrimental to the health of newborns. By failing to require expedited delivery service or sending samples to the lab within 24 hours of birth, newborns could be put at risk.

New parents should be able to expect that physicians will act in the best interests of their newborn children. The purpose behind the proposed legislation is an unfortunate reminder that hospitals or health institutions may not be doing enough to diagnose preventable -- and sometimes fatal -- juvenile medical conditions.


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