US hospitals often fall short on childbirth care, USA Today investigation finds

Roughly 50,000 women are severely injured every year during childbirth, while 700 mothers die. Approximately half of those deaths could be prevented with adequate care. However, a July 26 USA Today investigation found hospitals nationwide skip essential safety practices to prevent such outcomes.

USA Today investigators obtained more than a half-million pages of internal hospital quality records and examined more than 150 childbirth cases that went wrong. Reporters also contacted 75 birthing hospitals and conducted staff interviews to uncover if they follow recommended procedures for care.

Here are four findings from the investigation:

1. The publication obtained records through federally funded quality programs for dozens of hospitals in New York, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas for 2015 and 2016. Those records indicated less than 50 percent of maternity patients were promptly treated for high blood pressure that put them at risk for stroke. In Pennsylvania, data for roughly a dozen hospitals show mothers were treated for childbirth-related complications 49 to 67 percent of the time.

2. Several agencies, including Medicare and The Joint Commission, require hospitals to disclose relevant information, such as complication rates, and post the findings online. Medicaid, which helps pay for an estimated 50 percent of the nearly 4 million births that take place per year, has not set standards for childbirth complications. The Joint Commission, which sets safety standards for U.S. hospitals, does not require hospitals and health systems to report how often their healthcare providers fail to follow proper safety procedures related to childbirth, researchers discovered.

3. However, one state has reduced maternal death rates by 50 percent. In California, patient safety experts and hospitals have implemented practices now endorsed by leading medical societies as the gold standard of care.

4. USA Today cites several specific cases of patients who suffered severe complications from childbirth but were not provided proper care. In 2013, a patient in Ohio bled internally for hours. By the time she was admitted to another hospital for surgery, her delivery hospital had nearly run out of blood and the patient's heart stopped. In South Carolina, one of the nation's leading birthing hospitals sent a patient home with her newborn despite the patient exhibiting high blood pressure. When she returned to the emergency room with even higher blood pressure, hospital staff allegedly made her sit in the waiting room where she suffered a stroke and ultimately died.

"Our medicine is run by cowboys today, where everyone is riding the range doing whatever they're wanting to do," Steven Clark, MD, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told the publication. "It's a failure at all levels, at national organization levels and at the local hospital leadership levels as well."

To access the full USA Today investigation, click here.

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