Keep buns in the oven: Hospitals to save $1B by reducing early deliveries

With strong opinions coming from all sides about early elective deliveries, new data indicates that hospitals could save up to $1 billion if they reduce or eliminate the controversial practice.

The Leapfrog Group, which publicizes hospital-specific quality data, revealed yesterday there's wide variation among hospitals that perform early planned deliveries, that is, electively inducing or performing a C-section between 37 and 39 weeks before the mother has gone into labor or has experienced spontaneous rupture of membranes. From the 757 hospitals across the country that voluntarily reported their rates, organizations showed a wide range of only 5 percent to 40 percent.

But the recent data indicates that more hospitals are cutting down on the elective procedure. As Leapfrog said, a "promising" 39 percent of hospitals said their early elective delivery rate was 5 percent or less--Leapfrog's target for all hospitals--compared to 30 percent of hospitals last year. And the average rate dropped to 14 percent in 2011, down from 17 percent in 2010.

"We are making a difference in the lives of women and newborns," said Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder in a press release yesterday. "But there is still work to be done. We are seeing far too many newborns delivered early and without a medical reason," she continued.

Groups, including American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), Childbirth Connection, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) and the March of Dimes, have warned of complications from early elective deliveries that could result in more deaths, longer hospital stays and more in-hospital treatment.

"We need to stop providing the perverse financial incentives to intervene in birth when it's not medically necessary," said Suzanne Delbanco, executive director of Catalyst for Payment Reform.

If early elective deliveries were reduced to 1.7 percent, nearly $1 billion dollars could be saved annually in the United States, according to the press release.

For more information:
- read the press release
- check out the data
- here's the WSJ blog post
- read the California HealthCare blog post

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