Friday, December 18, 2009

Born in Sarasota Post in Midwifery Today

I was honored to receive the winter quarterly issue of
Midwifery Today and find a Born in Sarasota post in their Networking section! Managing Editor Teri Myers saw the post immediately following Florida's 2nd national ranking in c-section rates, and asked me to resubmit it for the magazine's audience. The article follows in its entirety.

Florida Ranks 2nd Nationally for C-Sections

A June 8, 2009 article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reveals that the most recent Florida Agency for Health Care Administration data, from July 2007 through June 2008, shows Florida ranking second in cesarean section rates, just behind New Jersey. Florida rates are now 39%, far exceeding the national average of 31.8%. According to the researchers’ data from 2007, Sarasota County ranks 4th of all reporting counties in Florida, delivering over 41% of our babies surgically. The consumer data from the same year puts this number at an even higher 44%, almost tripling the World Health Organization’s recommended 15%.

In sharp contrast, the most recently available Licensed Midwives Annual Report, collected from 34 practicing Florida Licensed Midwives in 2006, reveals a C-section rate of just 6.3% (92 surgeries out of 1454 births).

Something isn't adding up.

The Sun-Sentinel article, like many other writings on the subject, cites "medical malpractice fears" as a big part of the problem. "Obstetricians and hospitals in litigious South Florida order C-sections for any irregularity before or during labor," doctors and researchers said. "Doctors contend they are under pressure to deliver surgically. If they don't and something goes wrong, they are sued." Yet based on my own research, I have yet to discover a single medical malpractice suit awarded to a client of a Florida Licensed Midwife.

So midwives aren't getting sued, yet they aren't performing the high volume of C-sections that many obstetricians credit as their saving grace from malpractice litigation. What is at the root of this anomaly?

I understand that the current C-section rates take into account those high-risk women and pregnancies that actually require them, and once again, I cannot extend enough gratitude to the obstetricians that skillfully and appropriately perform this surgery. Yet according to the World Health Organization, as well as recent research supporting its recommendation, the best outcomes for mothers and babies are congruent with cesarean section rates of 5% to 10%. High-risk hospitals (such as Sarasota Memorial, the only provider of obstetrical services and Level III neonatal intensive care in Sarasota County) have the best outcomes with C-section rates of 15% or less. The combined evidence I've seen over the last five years, including the most recent issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, indicates that cesarean rates above 15% are simply medically irresponsible, and are directly contributing to the high maternal mortality rates in our country (1 in 4800).

According to research from the Childbirth Connection, the following seven evidence-based factors are contributing to the rising C-section rates in America:

1. Low priority of enhancing women’s own abilities to give birth.
2. Side effects of common labor interventions
3. Refusal to offer the informed choice of vaginal birth.
4. Casual attitudes about surgery and C-sections in particular.
5. Limited awareness of harms that are more likely with C-sections.
6. Providers’ fears of malpractice claims and lawsuits.
7. Incentives to practice in a manner that is efficient for providers.

It seems to me that perhaps the root of the malpractice anomaly lies within the patient's basic rights to informed consent and refusal. An excerpt from The Florida Patient's Bill of Rights:

"A patient has the right to be given by his or her health care provider information concerning diagnosis, planned course of treatment, alternatives, risks, and prognosis, unless it is medically inadvisable or impossible to give this information to the patient, in which case the information must be given to the patient's guardian or a person designated as the patient's representative. A patient has the right to refuse this information.

"A patient has the right to refuse any treatment based on information required by this paragraph, except as otherwise provided by law."

Improving American birth culture and reducing egregious C-section rates absolutely must be the result of a combined effort among legislators, policy makers, public health officials, hospitals, maternity care providers, and us, the consumers, who have the right and responsibility to the best evidence and information about our maternity care choices.

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