U.S. maternity care improves, but work remains

Hospitals have improved their maternity care, but wide variation persists across the country, according to a new report from the Leapfrog Group, an independent, national not-for-profit organization that advocates for hospital transparency and patient safety. 

The group's research indicated progress has been made in hospitals, but there is still significant room for improvement. For example, only 24.4 percent of hospitals are up to the group's standards for high-risk, low-birth-weight infant deliveries.

Meanwhile, early elective deliveries (EEDs) continued a downward trend, reaching 3.4 percent, the lowest recorded rate since the organization began to measure it. The rate was 4.6 percent in 2013 and 17 percent in 2010.  Despite this, many hospitals continue to perform too many EEDs, with 82 of nearly 1,000 reporting hospitals maintain EED rates of more than 10 percent, according to the report.

Episiotomy rates continue to improve, according to the report, with 65 percent of hospitals achieving the goal of 12 percent or less. Much like EEDs, however, there is substantial variation, with rates unacceptably high for the remaining 35 percent, and 12 hospitals maintaining rates of more than 40 percent. Next year, Leapfrog will lower its target episiotomy rate to 5 percent, which only 27 percent of hospitals would currently meet.

"The Maternity Care Report reveals that hospitals are making continued gains in the quality of maternity care offered, yet the data also demonstrates that there is substantial room for improvement," Leah Binder, president and CEO of Leapfrog, said in a statement. "For many employers, labor and delivery account for nearly 25 percent of all hospitalizations, which makes these maternity metrics extremely valuable, as they have the power to help employees make smart healthcare choices."

American hospitals have the highest maternity costs in the world, with the problem exacerbated by lack of price transparency, FierceHealthFinance previously reported, and the rate of maternal death is one of the highest in the industrialized world.

To learn more:
- here's the report (.pdf)
- read the statement