August 28, 2019 12:36 pm News Staff – The AAFP this week encouraged passage of legislation that could bring relief to obstetric deserts.
The Rural Maternal and Obstetric Modernization of Services Act (S. 2373) "addresses several important strategies necessary to improve maternal health for women in rural parts of the country," the AAFP said in an Aug. 26 letter(1 page PDF) to Sens. Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Specifically, the Academy applauded a demonstration program the bill would create to award grants to train physicians, medical residents (including family medicine and OB/Gyn residents) and fellows to practice maternal and obstetric medicine in rural community-based settings.
The bill also would invest in improved data collection and the use of telehealth to improve health care quality and access.
S. 2373 -- known in shorthand as the Rural MOMS Act -- updates similarly titled legislation that failed to emerge from committee in 2018. In the meantime, the needs it recognizes have grown more pressing.
"In rural areas, women face health disparities and are almost twice as likely as urban women to experience negative maternal health outcomes," the Academy's letter said. Citing a 2018 March of Dimes report, it added that "approximately 5 million U.S. women live in counties with no hospital offering obstetric care."
The CDC has reported that 700 women die each year in this country as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications. "The risks are three to four times higher for black women as compared to white women," the letter added.
With these figures and other data in mind, AAFP President John Cullen, M.D., of Valdez, Alaska, has pointed to the closure of rural hospitals and obstetric programs as a critical challenge to public health.
"This is causing obstetrical deserts, which leads to bad outcomes," Cullen told AAFP News earlier this year. "When there is loss of access to prenatal and perinatal services, women and babies die."
Yet primary care, Cullen wrote last year, can help to fill that void.
"Family physicians are the best choice to provide obstetrical care in small communities," he said in an Oct. 10 Leader Voices Blog post. "Our broad scope of practice allows for coverage of multiple areas in the hospital."
Related AAFP News Coverage
Rural Health Disparities Summit
Filling the Rural Gap With Good Recruiting, Telemedicine
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