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Am J Public Health. 1997 Mar;87(3):344-51.

Interspecialty differences in the obstetric care of low-risk women.

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  • 1Department of Family Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle 98195-4795, USA.



This study examined differences among obstetricians, family physicians, and certified nurse-midwives in the patterns of obstetric care provided to low-risk patients.


For a random sample of Washington State obstetrician-gynecologists, family physicians, and certified nurse-midwives, records of a random sample of their low-risk patients beginning care between September 1, 1988, and August 31, 1989, were abstracted.


Certified nurse-midwives were less likely to use continuous electronic fetal monitoring and had lower rates of labor induction or augmentation than physicians. Certified nurse-midwives also were less likely than physicians to use epidural anesthesia. The cesarean section rate for patients of certified nurse-midwives was 8.8% vs 13.6% for obstetricians and 15.1% for family physicians. Certified nurse-midwives used 12.2% fewer resources. There was little difference between the practice patterns of obstetricians and family physicians.


The low-risk patients of certified nurse-midwives in Washington State received fewer obstetrical interventions than similar patients cared for by obstetrician-gynecologists or family physicians. These differences are associated with lower cesarean section rates and less resource use.

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