Nurse education key to curbing maternal death rate

a pregnant woman wearing a blue shirt
Simple patient education tools could be the key to saving the lives of new mothers who experience postpartum complications.

Educating new mothers about potentially life-threatening postpartum complications could make a big dent in the maternal death rate. Right now they aren't getting that information, according to a new study.

High maternal death rates have caused alarm in some areas of the country recently, especially in light of statistics from the CDC Foundation that reveal that nearly 6 in 10 maternal deaths could have been prevented. A study published in the American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing found that the majority of nurses do not have up-to-date knowledge about maternal mortality rates, and that they often fail to educate new mothers appropriately before discharge.

Researchers in New Jersey and Georgia found the 372 registered nurses who responded to a survey spend the majority of their time educating new mothers about infant care. Overall, nurses in the study typically spent under 10 minutes dealing with the warning signs for life-threatening postpartum symptoms.

Poor continuity in health insurance coverage during the time before and after childbirth has already been identified as a negative factor when it comes to the health of new mothers. Even with continuous coverage, however, a substantial number of new mothers don’t show up for follow-up appointments within four to six weeks after they give birth, according to ProPublica.

Fortunately, the problem appears to have a relatively uncomplicated solution.

Nurses, who often form the vanguard for patient education, can make an immediate difference when provided with targeted information and basic tools. Hospital tests conducted during 2015 using a one-page handout describing warning signs and bright-line distinctions for when to see a doctor showed strong promise, study co-author Debra Bingham, R.N., head of the Institute for Perinatal Quality Improvement, told the publication.

“Very quickly we started hearing from the nurses that women were coming back to the hospital with the handout, saying ‘I have this symptom,’” Bingham told ProPublica, noting that she has rarely seen such quick, positive feedback on similar projects.