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Huge Variation In C-Section Rates At American Hospitals

The Cesarean section is an enormously important tool for delivery room physicians. Under certain circumstances, it becomes crucial to deliver a baby through C-section - and doctors need to know when those circumstances exist.

In many cases, however, doctors prematurely order a C-section that is not yet medically necessary. Sometimes this happens to fit the doctor's schedule and other times because the mother asks for a faster delivery. Regardless, it is the doctor's job to determine whether a C-section is needed and to only perform one when it is appropriate. Like many surgeries, C-sections come with dangerous potential complications, including higher risks of infection or re-hospitalization.

A recent survey of 600 hospitals that performed at least 100 births in 2009 found some surprising statistics on this topic. Although the average C-section rate was consistent with other studies at around 33 percent, individual hospitals had dramatically different rates. The researchers found some hospitals that only performed C-sections in 7 percent of deliveries while several others performed them 70 percent of the time. 

While none of these hospitals necessarily did anything wrong, the concerning implication of these numbers is that the variation is so broad. This suggests that the medical profession often lacks clear procedures to determine when a C-section is medically necessary. This would likely lead to some women receiving C-sections when they are not needed - and others facing dangerous deliveries when a C-section would be more appropriate to respond to fetal distress.

In either case, doctors need to choose the right procedure for the right patient at the right time. Doctors who fail to meet this responsibility may be liable for medical malpractice.

Source: Minnesota Public Radio, "C-section delivery rates vary widely in US," Lorna Benson, Mar. 4, 2013 

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