Medical journal study inflated maternal death rate in Texas

A 2016 study found Texas' maternal mortality rate doubled over two years, marking an unprecedented increase that made national headlines and spurred legislative action. However, a new study suggests the state's maternal death rate was actually much lower than originally reported, according to CNN.

The first study, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, found maternal deaths in Texas increased from 72 in 2010 to 147 in 2012. For the new study, researchers from the Texas Department of State Health Services analyzed the original findings, along with medical and autopsy records.

The researchers discovered only 56 maternal deaths occurred in 2012, not 147 as the original study suggested. They believe the discrepancy can be attributed to human error associated with physicians, justices of the peace and medical examiners electronically filing death certificates. Rates of these electronic filings in Texas increased 44 percent from 2010 to 2012. Researchers believe individuals likely clicked the wrong dropdown menu option when entering pregnancy status, thus producing an inflated figure for the maternal death rate.

Marian MacDorman, PhD, lead author of the 2016 study and a research professor at College Park-based Maryland Population Research Center, said the flawed data her team used came from the Texas Department of Health's Vital Statistics Division.

"The conflict is not really between data from 'my' study and 'their' study," she told CNN. "The conflict is that the Vital Statistics section of the Texas Department of Health has different numbers from the Texas maternal mortality review task force. … It's appropriate that they did the study, given that the data was so bad, but basically they shouldn't have to do this kind of study."

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