Since my move from Whooville to Newville, I've had to make some adjustments to the new patient population. Perhaps the most frustrating of all, however, are the "drop-in" patients on Labor and Delivery. My previous hospital was a rural, community hospital. It was certainly off the beaten track, and the building? Was old. Really old. The L & D suites were certainly sufficient and functional, but luxurious? Not so much. You had to know where you were going to find the hospital, and it was quite the rare occasion to have patients just "drop-in" for care.
Not so for the new digs. This hospital is new. Pretty much Brand Spanking New, and posh, and beautiful, and, oh yes, right off of a major highway, visible for all the world to see. Which makes for the fascinating phenomenon that is the OB "drop-in" patient. "Drop-in" patients come to this hospital "because it is close," or "because it is nice," or "because it was on the way." So, what is so bad about working in a hospital in which everyone wants to deliver? Well, what is so frustrating is the women who *know* that they want to deliver at our hospital, but do not seek pre-natal care from physicians that cover our hospital. Therefore, any pre-natal labs or records, or history of complications are virtually inaccessible at the time that they come in for delivery. Often patients from the large, downtown academic center (who don't have insurance or have insurance not accepted by our practice) receive all of their pre-natal care "for free" at the downtown center clinics and the purposefully come to our hospital to deliver. The patients are often not troubled by this, and often seem mildly surprised that we "aren't all the same" and have no way to access their records. After all, they are getting exactly what they want. It is much harder for us, as physicians, however, to help these patients. Especially when it comes to their expectations for delivery. It is difficult to develop a proper rapport in the few hours that we have with them. I think that trust is so important in the delivery room.
Even more difficult are the transient patients who stop in on their way through town, like one patient who had absolutely no pre-natal care, and was on her way to deliver her baby somewhere "non-medical" when her water broke, and she decided to stop-in at our hospital. She had, indeed, broken her water, but she refused an ultrasound to assist with proper fetal dating because she was concerned that the "x-ray waves" would damage the baby. She then proceeded to refuse any medical assistance from the hospital at all for over 24 hours, tying the medical staff's hands, and putting them at risk for liability at the same time. Eventually, she agreed to augmentation of labor, and even requested epidural analgesia after a prolonged labor. With medical assistance, she eventually was able to deliver, but the baby boy had definite signs of septicemia (likely due to prolonged rupture of membranes) and ended up in the NICU for over a week. When all was said and done, the mother, upon release from the hospital, said that she and her infant would never step foot in another hospital again, despite the fact that it was with the hospital's help that her child was born and made well when he was sick. To this day I will never understand why she "stepped foot" in the hospital from the start, if she did not want any intervention that the hospital could offer. This case brought a lot of issues that plague the medical profession in this day and age to the forefront.
Thankfully, her baby, despite some health issues at birth (that likely could have been avoided with faster intervention) did well...but what if he did not do well? What if the infant did not survive? Then who is at fault? The hospital? The physician? The mother? These are the questions the haunt physicians' sleep at night. Obstetrical interventions are not only done to avoid lawsuits, they are done to protect the safety and health of both the mother and her baby. However, one bad outcome, one wrong decision, can result in catastrophic professional, financial, and personal losses for the physician. Is it any wonder that we are hyper-vigilant? Is it any wonder that we would jump at any opportunity to prevent a bad fetal outcome, even it it means surgical intervention risks for the mother? It is thanks to Jon Edwards and others like him that the cesarean rates are rising, VBACs are being refused, that patients are being over-monitored, and that interventions are becoming the exception rather than the rule. Without tort reform, without the ability of the physician to operate from another position than that of fear of a poor outcome, then I am afraid that obstetrical care will remain the same in this country for years to come. Please consider that your rage just may be misdirected.