How the Simple Act of Listening Could Reduce America’s High Maternal Mortality Rate

An obstetrician with a maternal mortality rate of zero suggests solutions Photo by CDC on Unsplash It is shocking that despite the availability of state-of-the-art technology, fine educational institutions, and modern medical facilities, the United States still has the highest rate of maternal mortality among developed countries. So, what can be done to help people […]

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An obstetrician with a maternal mortality rate of zero suggests solutions

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

It is shocking that despite the availability of state-of-the-art technology, fine educational institutions, and modern medical facilities, the United States still has the highest rate of maternal mortality among developed countries. So, what can be done to help people have safe pregnancies and deliveries?

As an obstetrician, I’ve been taking care of pregnant patients and delivering babies for 40 years. In my practice, I have achieved a maternal mortality rate of zero. I believe that it is not technology, education, or facilities alone that will help the United States to protect people from the risks of pregnancy and birth; something as simple as doctors committing to listening to their patients could be key in saving lives.

Overcoming barriers to maternal good health

Because United States health insurance companies demand quick doctor’s visits, having an in-depth conversation with a provider about one’s care can be a rarity. However, communication between a doctor and their patient is critical, especially during pregnancy. After all, when someone is bringing a new life into the world, they should receive all of the time and attention they need. Instead, they are limited in the number of times they can see their obstetrician, and only allowed a short amount of time with them.

With so little time to spend with pregnant patients, it is perhaps not surprising that doctors might not completely grasp their condition, risks, and individual needs. But it is up to doctors to make the most of the time that they do have with patients. Understanding the patient’s overall experience and physical state is critical, as hard-to-detect conditions during pregnancy can result in maternal deaths in the delivery room. Doctors need to ask patients more questions, and really pay attention to the answers. They should not be content just doing the bare minimum.

The importance of listening

Paying close attention to pregnant patients is the only way to learn the subtleties of their condition and the signs of issues that may need to be addressed for a safe delivery. If more doctors truly listened to their patients and asked more questions, there’s a good chance that they could save lives.

There was a woman who experienced severe pain during her delivery. Intense pain during delivery is normal. However, it’s important that a doctor understand the pain their patient is feeling. In this situation, the patient ruptured her liver during delivery. Instead of deciphering the source of the problem, the doctor increased her epidural rate to only treat the pain. The woman died because her physicians didn’t listen to what she was telling them, and they didn’t care enough to find out what was really causing her pain.

Taking control of your care

What can you do to protect yourself if you feel a disconnect with your doctor? Call your physician if you experience any abdominal pain, spotting, or other unusual conditions during your pregnancy. Monitor your blood pressure and let your doctor know immediately if there are any spikes. Come to your obstetrician’s office with your questions written down and ask each one during your visit. If you are feeling rushed during a medical appointment, don’t let it intimidate you; make sure say everything you wanted to say. 

Unfortunately, the way that insurance companies operate is not in the best interest of the patients. The way doctors run their practices is dictated by those companies. However, if doctors and patients make an effort to take back control of their care, I believe the high maternal mortality rate in the United States can be lowered. A good start is for doctors to truly listen to what their patients are telling them. It could save lives.

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