June 3, 2013

Being a patient can be an overwhelming experience. On the one hand, you want to trust in your physician’s expertise and follow doctor’s orders in order to help ensure the best possible outcome for your health. On the other hand, most American adults now understand that because physicians are fallible and the medical error rate in the country is staggeringly high, you do not want to consent to procedures, medications and doctor’s orders blindly.

Unfortunately, a recent study suggests that too many American women are being subjected to invasive interventions and other procedures during pregnancy without a full understanding of the hazards involved in this kind of care. Certainly most of these women are simply trusting that their doctor knows best. However, an informed patient is more likely to make choices that are best for her. In addition, avoiding invasive intervention whenever possible helps to lower rates of pregnancy complications and birth injuries.

The recent study was released by the nonprofit maternity care organization Childbirth Connection. The executive director of that organization explained that “Our survey suggests that pregnant women need to take a more active role to make sure they get the care that is best for themselves and their babies. They need access to trustworthy information about the benefits and harms of interventions, to educate themselves, and be their own advocate.”

Why is an active approach to patient care so critical for pregnant women? Because informed patients are less likely to cave to physician pressure in situations that do not warrant invasive and potentially hazardous interventions. In addition, interventions tend to breed additional interventions, so informed patients can often avoid multiple challenging procedures if they are educated about risks and alternatives.

Legal recourse is generally available for patients who are harmed by invasive procedures. But ideally, patients may avoid many of these potentially dangerous procedures in the first place by advocating for themselves in an informed way.

Source: Consumer Reports, “Pregnant? Watch out for unnecessary c-sections and other questionable medical procedures,” Joel Keehn, May 8, 2013

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