Technological advancements and the abilities of hospital facilities to protect mothers and their babies is considered a basic measurement of societal development. Women dying in childbirth seems like it should be a rare occurrence in a nation as developed and wealthy as the United States. However, American women are more than 3 times as likely as Canadian women to die from pregnancy and childbirth complications, and 6 times more likely to die than Scandinavian women. Maternal mortality rates have been falling steadily in many parts of the world, and while U.S. infant mortality is at its lowest point in history, U.S. maternal deaths are rising to between 700 and 900 women annually (an additional 65,000 U.S. women almost die).
According to the CDC Foundation in Atlanta, nearly 60 percent of maternal deaths in this country are preventable, which means doctors and nurses should be able to identify problems before they become fatal. While the numbers show that African-Americans, low-income women, and women in rural areas die more frequently than others, complications such as heart problems, hemorrhages, blood clots, infections, and preeclampsia kill women of all different incomes and backgrounds.
The reasons? Some people blame high maternal age, complex medical histories, C-section prevalence, and insurance gaps. Simply put, however, the root of the problem lies in the American medical system’s focus on the safety and survival of newborns and infants. For example, maternal-fetal medicine as a medical specialty is so entrenched in fetal care that as recently as five years ago, up-and-coming doctors in some locations weren’t required to spend any time learning how to attend to birthing mothers. In fact, some were allowed to complete their training without ever stepping foot in a labor and delivery unit. As another example, national core measures that are widely accepted as ways to improve perinatal patient outcomes and reduce complications feature four standards that are focused on the baby. Only one addresses the health of the mother – and that measure is aimed at simply bringing the rate of C-sections down.
Other wealthy and developed countries (and even the state of California) have managed to adopt certain life-saving practices. Britain has reduced the mortality rate of preeclampsia (a highly treatable type of pregnancy-induced high blood pressure that can lead to seizures and strokes) to one in a million. In the United States, preeclampsia accounts for about 8 percent of maternal deaths (50 – 70 women per year). Worldwide, the condition kills approximately five women every hour, but it’s actually highly treatable if hospitals identify it and act quickly.
What’s also troubling is that something known as the “weekend effect” seems to exist, resulting in a 50 percent increase in maternal mortality rate as well as an increased amount of blood transfusions and perineal tearing. Baylor College of Medicine based this conclusion on an analysis of 45 million pregnancies in the U.S. from 2004 to 2014 — and it’s not limited to childbirth. Being admitted to a hospital on a weekend has been linked for years and across many studies with lower quality patient care.
The key seems to be one part prevention and one part standardization. The U.S. government leaves maternal mortality review up to the states. About half the states have established some solid processes, but with the time it takes to review the files, the lack of attention paid to the findings, and the lack of federal funding, there’s not much progress. The U.K. on the other hand considers maternal deaths as ways the system has failed the people. Each maternal death is looked at closely by experts, and reports are published in a timely manner that serve as the basis for new hospital standards and policies. Currently, the state of California, where one-eighth of U.S. children are born, reviews deaths in a similar way and has begun creating tool kits to help doctors and nurses better handle emergency situations. In the first year, hospitals that started using them saw a 21 percent decrease in maternal hemorrhage near-deaths.
If you believe that a hospital or healthcare worker is responsible for your injuries, or that you have lost someone you love to such negligence, you can find out more by discussing it with us. We have over 50 years of experience helping people, and we can help you. Based in Macon and proudly serving communities throughout Georgia, we believe that a mistake or omission that happens during medical treatment and causes a patient’s injury is unacceptable. Contact us to discuss your unique situation by calling (478) 742-3381 or by filling out our online form.