Reducing Maternal Mortality Rates through Patient-Centered Care

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Beverly Boulevard is home to one of the most luxurious birthing suites in the U.S. Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé gave birth there, and given these celebrities’ status, there is no surprise why. Cedars Sinai’s “deluxe maternity suite package” includes a personal doula and a three-room suite for $3,784. During their time in the hospital, birthing parents can also treat themselves to in-suite spa treatment and a gourmet postpartum dinner in the comfort of their own suite.

While such features certainly make Cedars-Sinai attractive, what is perhaps most notable about Cedars-Sinai beyond these luxuries is their high level of personalized care for each patient. Cedars-Sinai recognizes the uniqueness of each birth at all levels physical and emotional. Further, the Center seeks to empower patients with resources that can help them make informed decisions about their pregnancy, catered to their priorities or interests. For instance, patients can take childbirth classes to learn about different birth plans. Labor rooms are spacious, and many have tubs to provide labor support. Maternity and obstetrics staff are known for being caring and knowledgeable about their patients’ needs.

This patient-centered model to prenatal and delivery care views patients through a holistic lens that considers their unique social statuses and cultural backgrounds; patients are treated as “informed [and] respected [people] involved in their [own] care.” Therefore, the attentive medical care birthing people receive at well-supported medical centers such as Cedars-Sinai can provide patients with social support that is critical to pregnancy and delivery.

Yet for many Americans, the partum experience is not as ideal. In addition to maternity care costs, maternal deaths, though most are preventable, have been increasing in the United States since the year 2000. Compared to other developed countries, “women in the U.S. are the most likely to die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth.” Policy experts and scientists have largely attributed these high mortality rates to structural factors, such as: unequal insurance coverage, the rise of chronic health conditions (e.g. heart disease) and the U.S.’ fragmented healthcare system, which can make it difficult to address these issues during a patient’s pregnancy.

This issue disproportionately affects women of color in the U.S. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, “Black and American Indian and Alaskan Native women have higher rates of pregnancy-related deaths compared to White women.” Partly to blame are inequitable social determinants of health, such as economic stability and insurance coverage—these have historically made it difficult for people of color to access high-quality, patient-centered prenatal care.

Such statistics signal that attentive birthing centers such as Cedars-Sinai may be more of an exception rather than a norm. Furthermore, these high mortality rates and its disproportionate impact on people of color signal the need for a pregnancy-care standard in the U.S. that is patient-centered and whose quality is not contingent on a person’s zipcode or ability to afford an expensive birthing suite. While poor partum care is not the only factor behind the U.S’s high mortality rates, making partum care more inclusive and patient-centered can be a powerful way to begin to address these statistics.

What could such a patient-centered partum-care model look like? Firstly, beyond baseline health precautions, pregnancy and delivery medical care must be holistic. To many, the word “holistic” may evoke images of alternative wellness that incorporates practices such as yoga into a patient’s medical care. However, in this context, I refer to holistic pregnancy and delivery medical care as an all-encompassing system of care in which medical teams uniquely tailor each birthing mother’s experience according to their diverse set of experiences, backgrounds and wants and needs. Under this model, birthing people aren’t rushed through prenatal appointments, where their healthcare provider coldly refers to them in terms of their medical files and lab results. Rather, each medical team builds a meaningful, dynamic relationship with the patient and their family that is based on trust and cultural sensitivity.

To ensure that mothers feel heard throughout their pregnancy, it is important that medical providers listen attentively to the needs of their patients and their family. A 2011 study assessing the role of physician listening in provider and patient relationships found that many providers were dismissive of the patients deep awareness of their own bodies and state of health.” While people tend to know their bodies best, medical providers consistently dismiss their patient’s perspective, which can lead to misdiagnoses and a feeling of mistrust between patient and provider. On the opposite hand, empathetic and authentic listening can be deeply therapeutic for patients.

As pregnancy is a period in which people can experience dramatic physiological changes and the big advent of birthing a new human life, active listening is especially vital. For birthing people, this can mean that their providers take the health issues and pain they may be experiencing seriously. Such active listening is especially important for black mothers, with a 2018 study in California finding that Black women are the least likely to be listened to by their medical providers. Disregarding the concerns or needs of pregnant patients has been found to increase the risk of complications and mortality for both parents and their babies. Birthing people and their families should feel respected by their medical team: knowing their voice and input will be trusted by their medical team and taken into consideration during their care.

Secondly, maternal and obstetrics medical providers must ensure they maintain cultural competence. Cultural competence by medical providers does not simply recognize basic differences between healthcare providers and patients, but “understands how those differences can affect health habits and healthcare practices, and then integrates that understanding” into their clinical interactions, according to the O&P Edge Magazine. One model that integrates cultural competence into medical care is the Patient-Centered, Culturally Sensitive Health Care Model, that is incorporated across the medical system: “including in wait time, who the patient sees, and how the patient is treated by medical and other staff in the healthcare delivery process.” In regards to pregnancy, medical teams should prioritize mothers having medical teams that look like them or at the least, deeply understand their backgrounds. Such cultural receptiveness is foundational in building trust.

Luxurious medical centers like Cedars-Sinai offer their hospitalized mothers a wide array of services and medical support. However, many American women do not always not have this option. By standardizing care that is patient-centered and culturally sensitive for all pregnant people, U.S. stakeholders can address both rising maternal care costs and maternal mortality rates in the healthcare delivery phase. Such a patient-centered and culturally sensitive approach seeks to build a relationship of trust and cultural understanding with each patient. All birthing people in the U.S., regardless of their socioeconomic background and/or race and ethnicity, should have access to such high-level care.