Stop Blaming the Mother: Hospitals Should Be Transparent

When a pregnant woman goes to a hospital to deliver her baby, she expects to be cared for by highly trained professionals. She expects the hospital to be safe, well-equipped, and properly staffed – in essence, prepared – to provide appropriate care to her and her baby, before, during, and after childbirth.

And in most cases, hospitals are prepared. But not always.

Childbirth Complication Rates at Hospitals Revealed

Alison Young, John Kelly, and Christopher Schnaars from USA Today reported on an analysis of billing data from 7 million births across 13 states. They had data from 1,027 hospitals. With a formula developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they calculated rates of life-threatening complications in these states. “Used by hospitals, insurance companies and researchers, these rates are often kept secret from patients. Until now.”

The good news: at most hospitals, childbirth complication rates are less than 1.4 percent.

The alarming news: at one out of eight hospitals studied, patients experienced potentially deadly deliveries at a rate that is almost double the median. In other words, at many hospitals, things go wrong way more often than at other hospitals. The authors did not discover a pattern in terms of the size of the hospital, its location, or the characteristics of its patient population.

Unfortunately, very few hospitals disclose their own statistics. To make matters worse, hospitals with higher than average rates of childbirth complications (harm to either the mother or the baby) often blame the mothers’ health problems for anything that goes wrong. If a hospital can blame the mother, then it doesn’t have to evaluate its own performance to see if there is room for improvement.

Meanwhile, families in the 37 states that don’t require public reporting of complication rates – including Ohio - have no way of knowing where the hospital they use falls on the spectrum. So, when a woman chooses a hospital for delivery in Ohio, she doesn’t have access to the information she needs to make an informed decision. What she has is marketing materials put out by the hospital but no data. And that is precisely how the hospitals seem to want it.

The Need for Transparency in Birth Related Complications

Of the seven hospitals that deliver babies in New Orleans, one (Touro Infirmary) had a complication rate of 2.8%. Of the more than 13,000 women who delivered at Touro between 2014 and 2017, 360 had complications. Many of the women who delivered there came from the poorest area of the city, and more than 4% of these women experienced severe complications.

Individual stories of some of these patients reveal misdiagnoses, improper treatments, and delayed response by medical personnel -- many of whom were trainees.

Meanwhile, Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore mirrors Touro in terms of the race and socioeconomic status of its patient population. Yet, the childbirth complication rate at Mercy is only 1.4%. So, why is Mercy so much safer?

If these strategies are working at Mercy, then why aren’t they required of all hospitals? If patients had better data about complication rates, they might select only those hospitals with better outcomes. That would, in turn, help to drive improvements in those hospitals with more complications. In other words, transparency improves patient safety.

Help is Available for Severe Childbirth and Maternal Injury

If you or someone you love has suffered a severe childbirth or maternal injury, The Eisen Law Firm can help. Call our experienced Cleveland malpractice lawyers to discuss your options for legal recourse and for obtaining the compensation you deserve. To schedule your free consultation, call 216-287-0900 or contact us online today.