Survey: Cesarean Sections Are More Likely at For-Profit Hospitals

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REUTERS/Katarina Stoltz

Pregnant and hoping to avoid a cesarean section? Chances are you’d be better off checking into a nonprofit hospital, according to a new survey released by California Watch.

The investigative journalism group found an association between C-section rates and profits, after surveying 253 California hospitals, both public and private. It found that women who deliver in for-profit hospitals are 17% more likely to have a C-section than in nonprofit-hospital patients, even after all other factors (like maternal health and nature of pregnancy) have been controlled for.

“Overusing major surgery on otherwise healthy women and babies is taking a toll,” Pam Udy, president of the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN), told HealthNews.

C-sections bring hospitals twice as much revenue as vaginal births, just by their nature — surgery is expensive and requires longer hospital stays. But they are also risky for both mother and baby, associated with increased risks of low birth weight and respiratory problems for little ones, infection, hemorrhaging and, later, ectopic pregnancy risks for mom. Nearly a third of all pregnancies in the U.S. result in C-section, and at least half of them are estimated to be avoidable or elective.

More research is needed, but it’s of little comfort that a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that “severe maternal injuries” during labor and delivery increased 27% in 7 years.

Despite potential complications for patients, surgical births are appealing from the hospital’s point of view because they are predictable. One hospital administrator pointed out that it’s nice to know how many hospital beds will be needed at any one time. Doctors also sometimes like to avoid the unpredictable nature of vaginal births: one woman interviewed by California Watch says was talked into a C-section because her doctor was going on vacation the week she was due.

To read more about the study, as well as the risks and benefits of C-section, have a look at the study’s results on California Watch.