Hospital C-section rates vary tenfold

A new study from the University of Minnesota found that the rate of cesarean births varies from 7 percent to 70 percent at hospitals across the country. The Health Affairs study is the largest to date suggesting C-sections, in some cases, are being chosen over traditional birth and inflating healthcare costs.

Rates for women with lower-risk pregnancies, in which less variation might be expected, varied from 2.4 percent to 36.5 percent, suggesting "vast differences in practice patterns are likely to be driving the costly overuse of cesarean delivery in many U.S. hospitals," the study found.

"The variations we uncovered were striking in their magnitude, and were not explained by hospital size, geographic location, or teaching status," lead author Katy B. Kozhimannil, Ph.D., said today in a research announcement. "The scale of this variation signals potential quality issues that should be quite alarming to women, clinicians, hospitals and policymakers."

Researchers drew their conclusions after examining 593 hospitals with at least 100 births in 2009. The significant variation in rates among lower-risk mothers is "medically unwarranted," study authors noted.

The variations have important health and cost implications for state and federal public health agencies, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, among other healthcare organizations, in addition to the families bringing home newborns in 2009 and today, the study notes.

Better coordination of maternity care, collecting and measuring more data, tying Medicaid payment to quality improvement, and enhancing patient-centered decision making through public reporting can help bring reduce C-section rates, the authors said.

Moreover, in late February, the American Board of Internal Medicine's "Choosing Wisely" campaign added C-section deliveries and inductions of labor earlier than 39 weeks to its list of unnecessary or overused treatments. And new research shows that hospitals waste billions of dollars on unnecessary C-sections.

To learn more:
- check out the study from Health Affairs
here's the research announcement