Study explores which model of maternity care is best

A new study will investigate which model of maternity care is the most cost-effective and delivers the best health outcomes.

Associate Professor Emily Callander, a health economics researcher at James Cook University in Townsville, was granted a $437,000 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) fellowship to examine the cost and outcomes of the pregnancy, obstetric and postnatal care of 360,000 Queensland women who have given birth since 2012.

The new study was motivated by recent research conducted by Dr Callander and colleague Haylee Fox that found out of pocket fees for obstetric services have increased by more than 1000% over the past 25 years, while the cost of in-hospital obstetrics rose by 77%.

The models being studied are private obstetric-led care, private midwife-led care and public hospital obstetric or midwifery care.

The research will trace back over the costs and outcomes experienced by women from pregnancy through childbirth and two years afterwards.

“For every woman having a baby we want to see which model of maternity care gives the best health outcomes and is also the most cost-effective,” Dr Callander said.

“Within Australia, there is a notable absence of economic-informed decision making around maternity care. It’s an area that has escaped a lot of research attention in terms of looking at the value of different models of care.

“The key part is we actually are working directly with policymakers and health providers so the research results can be used to change the way maternity services are delivered.”

Dr Callander described her most recent research, which uncovered soaring costs for obstetric services, as a “double whammy”.

“If you look overall at the different types of services covered by Medicare, obstetrics stand out as being some of the most expensive, but also the ones that have increased astronomically in that time period as well. So, there really is that anomaly. It’s not surprising, I think that you’re seeing a real decline in the number of women choosing to birth privately.”

Dr Callander said delivering maternity healthcare that produces the best value for money and greatest clinical outcomes was critical.

Once the study is completed, results will help develop an online database that will allow women in Queensland to compare costs and make informed decisions about the type of maternity care they access.

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