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BMC Public Health. 2009 Jul 22;9:257. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-9-257.

Trends in prenatal cares settings: association with medical liability.

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Research Institute & Department of Family and Community Medicine, Lancaster General North Duke Street, Lancaster, PA 17604-3555, USA.



Medical liability concerns centered around maternity care have widespread public health implications, as restrictions in physician scope of practice may threaten quality of and access to care in the current climate. The purpose of this study was to examine national trends in prenatal care settings based on medical liability climate.


Analysis of prenatal visits in the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 1997 to 2004 (N = 21,454). To assess changes in rates of prenatal visits over time, we used the linear trend test. Multivariate logistic regression modeling was developed to determine characteristics associated with visits made to hospital outpatient departments.


In regions of the country with high medical liability (N = 11,673), the relative number, or proportion, of all prenatal visits occurring in hospital outpatient departments increased from 11.8% in 1997-1998 to 19.4% in 2003-2004 (p < .001 for trend); the trend for complicated obstetrical visits (N = 3,275) was more pronounced, where the proportion of prenatal visits occurring in hospital outpatient departments almost doubled from 22.7% in 1997-1998 to 41.6% in 2003-2004 (p = .004 for trend). This increase did not occur in regions of the country with low medical liability (N = 9,781) where the proportion of visits occurring in hospital outpatient departments decreased from 13.3% in 1997-1998 to 9.0% in 2003-2004.


There has been a shift in prenatal care from obstetrician's offices to safety net settings in regions of the country with high medical liability. These findings provide strong indirect evidence that the medical liability crisis is affecting patterns of obstetric practice and ultimately patient access to care.

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