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In an era when individuals are bearing more of, if literally not all, the financial burden for their health care coverage, we are seeing a much more heightened selection process in regards to where these consumers go for medical treatment and how they are willing to spend their hard earned dollars.

So it is not surprising that health care decisions are heavily influenced by ratings, grades and online reviews. Although one should always take these recommendations with a grain of salt, as I discussed recently in a post on the accuracy of hospital grading systems, organizations such as Healthgrades and Leapfrog Group are helping to bring some clarity to an otherwise murky decision-making process.

Leapfrog, a leading advocate for hospital care quality that publishes safety grades twice a year on more than 2,500 hospitals, has delved even deeper with a recently released report specifically on maternity care in the U.S.—and the data shows two distinct trends that might surprise many.

Based on information that’s gathered on a nationwide level, the Leapfrog study examines five key areas of maternity care; early elective delivery rate, rate of C-sections, rate of episiotomies, standard processes of care and delivery outcomes for high-risk births. Of these procedures or types of care, both early elective deliveries and unnecessary C-section or episiotomies recorded historical rates—the former registering at its lowest since Leapfrog started collecting such data, and the latter reaching dangerously high numbers well above Leapfrog’s recommended limit.

As might be expected, such numbers aren’t spread consistently across the U.S., or even across communities in some cases. Illustrating the disparity, the state of New Mexico only had a 17.1 percent rate of C-sections among low-risk, first-time mothers while Louisiana showed a rate of 32.1 percent for the same group. By comparison, Leapfrog recommends a rate of 23.9 percent or lower for any given hospital—a target that is reached by only 37 percent of all hospitals surveyed.

Thus, an aspect of health care that serves as a benchmark metric for many developed countries across the globe is not living up to expectations even half the time in U.S. hospitals. Too often, we are putting the health of young women at risk with unnecessary procedures that could lead to complications and potentially life-threatening conditions. Even more reason to know not only the reputation of your doctor, but of your healthcare facility when preparing for childbirth—such a milestone in one’s life deserves a well-informed decision.

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