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Cesarean overuse and the culture of care

Objective: To assess hospital unit culture and clinician attitudes associated with varying rates of primary cesarean delivery.

Data Sources/Study Setting: Intrapartum nurses, midwives, and physicians recruited from 79 hospitals in California participating in efforts to reduce cesarean overuse.

Study Design: Labor unit culture and clinician attitudes measured using a survey were linked to the California Maternal Data Center for birth outcomes and hospital covariates.

Methods: Association with primary cesarean delivery rates was assessed using multivariate Poisson regression adjusted for hospital covariates.

Principal Findings: 1718 respondents from 70 hospitals responded to the Labor Culture Survey. The “Unit Microculture” subscale was strongly associated with primary cesarean rate; the higher a unit scored on 8items describing a culture supportive of vaginal birth (eg, nurses are encouraged to spend time in rooms with patients, and doulas are welcomed), the cesarean rate decreased by 41 percent (95% CI = −47 to −35 percent, P < 0.001). Discordant attitudes between nurses and physicians were associated with increased cesarean rates.

Conclusions: Hospital unit culture, clinician attitudes, and consistency between professions are strongly associated with primary cesarean rates. Improvement efforts to reduce cesarean overuse must address culture of care as a key part of the change process.

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