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Consumer Reports: Hospitals perform Too Many C-Sections

Update Date: May 09, 2014 01:44 PM EDT

Even though delivery via a Cesarean section (C-section) has become a relatively more safe procedure today than it was in the past, several studies have found that C-sections might lead to dangerous complications. In a new study conducted by Consumer Reports, the researchers found that hospitals perform too many C-sections that are not necessary. The report found that doctors are turning to this delivery procedure out of habit, training or expediency.

For this report, the researchers examined over 1,500 hospitals from only 22 states due to the limited amount of information some states provide. They calculated that overall, 66 percent of the hospitals received the nonprofit's lowest or second-lowest ratings. 12 percent managed to get the two top scores.

"We think it's time those hidden numbers are brought to light," said John Santa, M.D., medical director of Consumer Reports Health. "How you deliver your baby should be determined by the safest delivery method, not which hospital you choose."

The report found that even within states, C-section rates can vary greatly depending on the hospital. Within California, C-section rates were low at the California Hospital Medical Center located in Los Angeles at just 15 percent. At the Los Angeles Community Hospital, however, 55 percent of pregnant women who were considered to be a low-risk pregnancy ended up getting C-sections. In Colorado, the C-section rate at Denver Health Medical Center in Colorado was just eight percent. The C-section rate increased to 20 percent at Denver's Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center.

"The variation is what gets you, that really is the thing," said Doris Peter, director of Consumer Reports' Health Ratings Center according to CNN. "If you compare peer hospitals in urban areas that treat the same kind of patients -- meaning they share similar socioeconomic issues -- to have wildly different rates suggests that there is a problem here."

Since some C-sections are necessary, the report only looked at C-section rates in women who were expected to have a low-risk pregnancy. Women with a low-risk pregnancy have never had a C-section before, are not expected to give birth prematurely and are only carrying one fetus that is in the correct position.

"Over the next five years, I would hope we will see a slow decline in the rate," lead author of the report, Dr. Aaron Caughey said. "[But it] will be contingent on more people embracing the message and will have to involve people at the grass-roots level doing things in their practice that changes this trend."

The Consumer Reports' article, "What hospitals don't want you to know about C-sections," can be found here.

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