The Glasgow Coma Scale is a scoring system used to determine a patient’s level of consciousness. It is designed for use with patients who have suffered traumatic head or severe brain injuries, and is widely used by medical technicians, hospital staff to monitor patients in intensive care, and other healthcare professionals.

Unfortunately, in some cases, the scale may be used to determine level of consciousness following an incident of medical negligence – which may ultimately lead to filing a malpractice claim with help from a Cleveland, Ohio medical malpractice attorney.

Created by Graham Teasdale and Bryan J. Jennett in 1974 at the University of Glasgow, the scale assesses two main factors of a patient’s consciousness after a severe brain injury: level of wakefulness and level of awareness or understanding.

How the Scale Works

To determine a patient’s consciousness, the Glasgow Coma Scale considers three pieces of physical evidence: the patient’s eye opening, verbal response and motor response. Each item is assigned a numerical value from one to five, and patients are scored depending on how they respond. The numbers are added up, giving the patient a final score of anywhere from three to 15, three being apparent brain death, and 15 being completely unimpaired.

Scores from the Glasgow Coma Scale break down like this:

  • Eyes: If the patient’s eye opening is spontaneous, he or she receives four points. If the eyes open to voices, it’s three, or to pain, it’s two. If the patient fails to open his/her eyes at all, it's just one point.
  • Verbal: If the patient gives a verbal response and can participate in normal conversation, he/she receives five points. If he/she can participate, but seems disoriented, it's four points. If a patient can only utter incoherent words, it’s three points, or only sounds, it’s two points. Finally, if the patient is unable to give a verbal response, it's one point.
  • Motor:It the patient’s motor responses are normal, he/she receives six points. If the response is localized to pain, it’s five points, or if he/she withdraws from pain, it’s four. If the patient makes flexing movements, it's three points, or extension movements, it's two. If he/she remains immobile, it's just one point.

Points are assigned differently for infants or children who are not yet able to give a proper verbal response.

Making the Determination

Once each item has been scored, the total will be added. A total score of eight is considered the critical score on the Glasgow scale; anything at or below this number indicates the condition is severe and the patient is, indeed, in a coma. A score between nine and 12 means the patient is not in a coma and is presenting moderate trauma symptoms. A score of 13 to 15 indicates mild trauma or none at all.

If a patient falls into the moderate or severe categories, according to the scale, it could result in long-term cognitive, physical and behavioral impairments.

Lawsuits for Brain Injury Caused by Negligence

Unfortunately, on occasion, the scale must be used in times of malpractice wherein a doctor’s negligence or error has caused the patient to fall into a coma or vegetative state, such as errors involving anesthesia during surgery.

In these cases, family members of loved ones who are in a coma or vegetative state may pursue legal action against the healthcare provider responsible. A Cleveland, Ohio medical malpractice attorney can provide legal consultation and assist throughout the legal process. During consultation, family members of victims of severe brain injuries may discuss the results of the Glasgow Coma Scale and how the patient's level of unconsciousness or coma may impact recovery.