Cord gas analysis can be beneficial but has drawbacks
In his article, Dr. Ross makes a few statements I would like to challenge. He gives a list of indications for cord gas analysis, even with a vigorous newborn. I would suggest that doing so is not only unnecessary, but could get the delivering provider in trouble. Normal gases with a vigorous infant are not actionable, and neither are abnormal gases with a vigorous infant. The latter situation could, however, lower the bar for a lawsuit if any neurologic pathology is diagnosed in the child.
At our hospital, blood gas assessments generate charges of $90 for each arterial and venous sample. The author states that gases are helpful for staff education. If that is the purposeof measuring the gases when Apgar scores are normal, then the bill for the gases should be sent to the staff, not the patient or insurance company.
The precise reason for doing cord gases is to prove you are a good doctor. If the Apgar scores are low, a healthy set of gases shows that your interventions were timely and appropriate. Normal gases prevent lawsuits in this situation.
Joe Walsh, MD
Dr. Ross responds
I appreciate the comments of Dr. Walsh, who suggests that we should not obtain cord gases in vigorous infants due, in part, to the hospital charges. There are several reasons for the indications detailed in the article. Although normal Apgar scores would appear to negate the potential for severe metabolic acidosis, Apgar scoring accuracy has been challenged in medical legal cases. Furthermore, there may be newborn complications (eg, pre-existing hypoxic injury, intraventricular bleed) that may not be recognized immediately, yet hypoxemia and acidosis may be alleged to have contributed to the outcome. The actual cost of running a blood gas sample is far less than the $90 hospital charges. Nevertheless, if hospital charge is a concern, I recommend that the physician obtain a cord gas sample immediately following the delivery and determine whether to run the sample after the 5-minute Apgar score is obtained.
Share your thoughts! Send your Letter to the Editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and the city and state in which you practice.