- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee hospitals have seen a dramatic decrease in elective baby deliveries over the last two years.

Hospitals now have a target rate of five percent of those deliveries, The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/1cVWWi1) reported. Just a couple of years ago, some had rates of more than 40 percent.

Bridget Hayes, who is director of labor and delivery services at Parkridge East Hospital in Chattanooga, said attitudes about deliveries are changing.

“In the ‘90s it become all about convenience and schedules,” Hayes said. “Patients started becoming more empowered in their care, and pushing doctors to induce on a date that worked best.”

But those days are diminishing quickly as a growing amount of research shows that elective procedures can be risky to mother and child.

Chris Clarke, senior vice president for the Tennessee Hospital Association, said almost 16 percent of babies born earlier than 39 weeks of gestation were considered elective in May 2012. Now, that number is below 5 percent.

“It’s extremely impressive for us to see that kind of drop in a year,” she said.

Groups like the March of Dimes and the American College of Obstetricians have for years noted problems with scheduled early deliveries.

The recent push to end the practice is a testament to public monitoring, said Erica Mobley, senior communications manager for The Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit that has publicized data.

“Until we started reporting rates by hospital, no one knew how bad the problem was,” Mobley said. “Many hospitals said they had never tracked those numbers before.”

One of those was Erlanger Baroness Hospital.

“For a few years we didn’t fully know how important it was,” said Traci Josephsen, women’s service line administrator at Erlanger.

“The tipping point came with a lot of physician leadership saying, ‘We need to throw down the gauntlet and change this,’” she said. “‘And we need hospitals to hold us accountable.’”

Parkridge adopted its policy of five percent in the fall of 2012, and Hayes said it has made a huge impact. In one year, early elective deliveries fell from 42 percent to five percent.

“We’d been leaning toward it for years, but we started seeing the change immediately when we put that hard stop in,” she said.

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