By | August 15, 2016

It’s 2016, and advancements in healthcare, especially in technology, often look like scenes from a sci-fi movie. From face transplants to the recent discovery of NEK1 (a gene associated with ALS), progress continues to astonish the healthcare community – and the patients and families most impacted.

That’s why the recent study on maternal mortality rates is so alarming.

A recent study published in Obstetrics and Gynecologists found that maternal mortality rates have increased in the United States between 2000 and 2014…by 27%, to be exact. During the same time, the rates have decreased in more than 150 countries. And while it’s still rare, at a national average of 12.1 deaths per 100,000 births, the study’s author finds it “an embarrassment” that results are on par with much less developed countries, including Iran and Ukraine. States with the highest levels of maternal mortality included Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Washington D.C., which ranged from 20.1 to 38.2 deaths per 100,000 births.

We can do better

Bringing a new life into the world is the happiest of occasions. But for a few, it ends in tragedy. And even more unfortunate, many of these adverse events are preventable. That’s why health systems are implementing comprehensive perinatal safety initiatives. That’s why states are enforcing higher standards. That’s why steps are being taken to predict and prepare for medical complications. That’s why the conversation is now changing.

Arguably, there are possible explanations for these stats: experts speculate that the high rate of C-sections (resulting in hemorrhage), as well as older women more frequently giving birth, could be contributing factors. Access to adequate care and insurance could also be part of the problem, as nearly half of the counties in the US do not have a practicing OB-GYN or midwife.

We know we have a problem. But we also know we have solutions. We are proud to be a part of the answer for the tens of thousands of OB clinicians who are working with us on a daily basis to reverse this trend. Here’s how:

Step 1: Effective Hiring

Here are the cold, hard facts: you wouldn’t make a very good pilot if you were proficient in taking off but not competent in landing, right? Same goes for clinicians: each individual has their own unique strengths that make them prime candidates for different areas of medical expertise. Not just anyone can work in OB: clinicians in this unit require a certain sensibility. Assessments like Relias Prophecy help identify who will be most successful in these high-pressure roles.

Step 2: Impactful Onboarding

It’s not enough to hire great clinicians and then let them cruise at high altitude. Flying into a new role can be intimidating with so much to navigate, so it’s important for new hires to have the personal and educational support they need to be successful.

Step 3: Maintaining Proficiency

Think about how airline safety has been transformed in less than two decades and now imagine how much has changed in medicine. Clinicians must be up to speed on rare, but high-risk perinatal occurrences, so in the event that they encounter them to the field, they’re prepared to follow protocol. Educational platforms like Relias OB (formerly GNOSIS) provide digestible bits of information and personalized learning paths to instruct clinicians on how to handle dangerous situations that could result in maternal mortality.

John Harrington

John co-founded APS in 1993 after completing his training as a board certified medical illustrator. He is one of fewer than two hundred board certified medical illustrators worldwide. He has acted as a courtroom expert witness in obstetrics, orthopedics, and neurology, and has been a contributing illustrator to a variety of texts along with publications including the New England Journal of Medicine, Boston Globe, Fortune Magazine, and Lawyer’s Alert. He has also presented at a range of continuing medical and legal education seminars and events throughout the country. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts from Boston University. Prior to founding APS, he was employed by Harvard Medical School. He is a Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education faculty member and a member of both the Association of Medical Illustrators and the Massachusetts Association of Trial Attorneys.

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