Delivering a baby before it’s ready is bad for everyone — for the baby’s health, the parents’ peace of mind, and the costs to the family and the health care system. Yet unnecessarily early deliveries (called early elective deliveries) have become more and more common in recent years despite evidence of the potential harm they can cause.
Now prospective parents have an easy means of comparing hospitals in their area to see which ones are more likely to deliver babies unnecessarily early, before 39 weeks of gestation. Babies need at least 39 weeks in the womb to fully develop the brain and lungs.
Because of the Internet, consumers have tools like never before to make comparisons between suppliers before purchasing a product or service. Those tools could be applied to many aspects of health care, if we had access to the raw data needed to make the comparisons.
The Leapfrog Group, a project of employers that buy health insurance for employees, gathered some of the raw data on early elective deliveries and put the results online for all to see, including naming hospitals and their rates of unnecessarily early deliveries. They surveyed 773 hospitals and found that rates of early elective deliveries varied more than 100-fold between hospitals. While there is no national benchmark for an acceptable rate of early elective delivery, Leapfrog’s panel of experts suggests that as of 2011 it’s acceptable for a hospital to have 5% or fewer of its deliveries be early elective deliveries.
Consumers may need to ask their preferred hospital to tell them the hospital’s rate of early elective deliveries, however, because not all hospitals were surveyed, and many of those that were did not respond. Nonetheless, this online report is a great start. The results showed that hospital practices vary greatly even at the local level. In Los Angeles, for example, rates of early elective deliveries ranged from 4% to 29%. In Boston, rates ranged from 1% to 27%.
Read more in my full story.
— Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)