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Newborn Deliveries Are Scheduled Too Early, According to Hospital Watchdog

January 29, 2011

Washington, D.C. – The employer-driven hospital quality watchdog, The Leapfrog Group, issued a Call to Action in response to its new data finding that thousands of babies are electively scheduled for delivery too early, resulting in a higher likelihood of death, being admitted to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and life-long health problems.

Despite the importance of this issue to women and babies, Leapfrog is the first national organization to make this information publicl. The findings from 773 hospitals in Leapfrog’s 2010 annual hospital survey reveal significant variation among hospitals in their rates of early elective cesarean section and elective inductions, with some hospitals having ten times the rate of others.

“Hospitals, health plans, providers, and communities need to do more to protect women and babies from this harmful practice,” said Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder. “And women need to protect themselves by refusing to schedule their deliveries before 39 weeks without a sound medical reason, and by knowing the facts about the hospitals where they plan to deliver.”

Experts, including those from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), Childbirth Connection, and the March of Dimes, caution that the amount of time a baby needs to develop fully, which includes having a fully developed brain and other organs, is at least 39 completed weeks. However, Leapfrog finds that newborns are being “electively” scheduled –meaning without a medical reason--for delivery before the 39th week at alarming rates.

“The last few weeks of pregnancy are critical to a baby’s health because important organs, including the brain and lungs, are not completely developed until then, said Francie Ekengren, Wesley Medical Center Chief Medical Officer. “We thank Leapfrog for making this data available. A baby’s birth should not be scheduled before 39 weeks of pregnancy, unless their health care provider says it’s medically necessary.”

Leapfrog has identified several hospitals and health systems, such as Hospital Corporation of America, the parent of Wesley Medical Center, which have promoted and supported implementation of policies to deter doctors from scheduling cesarean sections and elective inductions for nonmedical reasons. This example suggests that hospitals can help implement policies that improve adherence to evidence-based care.