The practice of obstetrics is not easy. Doctors who deliver babies face long, late hours, life-threaatening complications that can spring up in a split second without warning, and the constant threat of litigation for events beyond their control. Now, the malpractice crisis is making it even harder, with doctors in crisis states like Pennsylvania finding themselves in a manpower crunch thanks to the exodus of obstetricians from the state. Not only are doctors leaving, but hospitals are shutting down their obstetrics departments:
According to the 2003 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Survey on Medical Liability, 12.5 percent of OB/GYNs in Pennsylvania have stopped practicing OB and 57.5 percent have made some change in their practice because of issues with affordability or availability of liability coverage, including relocating, retiring, dropping OB, reducing number of deliveries, reducing amount of high-risk OB care, or reducing gynecological surgical procedures.
Those statistics, however, do not come close to revealing the extent of the current problem of obstetrician supply in the five-county Philadelphia region, which lost 25 percent of its staffed OB beds between 1993 and 2003, according to Delaware Valley Healthcare Council President Andrew Wigglesworth. Within the past 18 to 24 months, he says, the region lost 10 hospital OB departments, including those at MCP, Methodist, Nazareth, Warminster, Mercy Fitzgerald, Episcopal and Elkins Park; while OB services were also lost from hospital closures including City Line, Sacred Heart in Norristown and Community Hospital in Chester.
That means longer hours and a greater proportion of riskier cases for the hospitals and doctors who remain. Which means they’re more prone to errors. It also means that they can no longer spread themselves as thinly as they once did. Hospitals that once staffed inner city public health clinics are can no longer spare the staff to do so, leaving the poor without easily accessible prenatal care. Remember that the next time you hear John Edwards say that he has spent his career helping the down and out.