Medical associations widely recommend that women visit their obstetricians and primary care physicians shortly after giving birth, but slightly fewer than half make or keep those postpartum appointments, according to a single-state study.
Researchers with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found that women with pregnancy complications were more likely to see a physician post-delivery, but overall, visit rates were low.
Women need to understand the importance of a six-week visit to the obstetrician not only to address concerns and healing after delivery, but also to follow up on possible future health risks, review the pregnancy and make the transition to primary care, Wendy Bennett, MD, assistant professor of medicine and the lead researcher for the study, which was published in January on the website of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, said according to a news release.
Women with pregnancy complications are at higher risk for some chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and these visits are an opportunity to assess risks and refer to primary care providers to work on long-term preventive care.
Physician groups, such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, recommend women with complications such as hypertension during pregnancy or gestational diabetes visit their obstetricians six weeks after a birth and their primary care physician within a year.
For the study, researchers collected data from one commercial health insurance plan and multiple Medicaid insurance plans in Maryland. The aims were to determine different predictors of receiving post-delivery primary and obstetric care in women with and without pregnancy complications, including gestational or pregestational diabetes mellitus and hypertensive disorders, such as preeclampsia. Women with these conditions are much more likely to develop long-term health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Among women with tax-supported Medicaid insurance, 56.6% of those with a complicated pregnancy and 51.7% of those without a complicated pregnancy visited a primary care physician within a year. Among women with commercial health insurance, 60% of those with a complicated pregnancy and 49.6% of those without a complicated pregnancy did so.
White patients, older patients and patients with depression or preeclampsia were more likely to visit their primary care physician, the researchers reported.
Of the women on Medicaid, 65% of those with complicated pregnancies and 61.5% of those without complicated pregnancies had a postpartum obstetric visit within three months. Numbers were slightly lower for those with commercial insurance, at 50.8% of those with complicated pregnancies and 44.6% of those without complicated pregnancies.
Bennett and her team said their findings add to evidence that access to healthcare alone having insurance and a physician is not enough to assure proper care. All study participants had insurance for at least six weeks after delivery.
Providers need to develop creative ways to improve attendance at postpartum visits, Bennett said. A pilot project at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center involves combined mommy-baby visits, for example. If the babys checkup is included in the mothers visit, the mother may be more likely to keep the appointment, and thus would receive important education about improving health behaviors and the need for primary care follow-up.
Other options are home visits and collaborations with day care centers, community centers and churches to make visits and health promotional activities more convenient.
Bennett said more work also is needed by hospitals and physicians to coordinate future appointments, or to arrange transportation or child care if needed.
Pregnancy is a teachable moment many women are very motivated to make healthier lifestyle choices to keep themselves and their babies healthy, she said. After a birth, we need to keep them motivated.
Study abstract: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-013-2744-2