Is There a Doctor in the House? Standards of Physician Availability for Laboring Women
Obstetrics and gynecology 2010 Sep; 116(3): 723-7
Unexpected emergencies requiring urgent intervention can arise in the course of labor even among uncomplicated pregnancies in low-risk women. The possibility of such emergencies requires that responsible practitioners be available for management. The recent National Institutes of Health-sponsored consensus conference on vaginal birth after cesarean delivery highlighted this issue in discussing alternate standards of "ready" and "immediate" availability. The merits, feasibility, and ethics of alternate systems for coverage of all laboring women have not been widely or previously discussed and are considered in this opinion. Although there are potential advantages to having a responsible practitioner immediately available, logistic and economic considerations will make immediate availability unfeasible in all centers and systems, particularly on smaller services where distance or other factors may limit the option of consolidation (ie, the merging of different hospitals' obstetric services). We discuss training, systems, and planning to optimize response to emergencies in all systems, whether practitioners are readily or immediately available. Finally, we suggest that the ethical principle of respect for autonomy argues that particularly where alternate systems exist, practitioners and patients discuss the details, merits, and limitations of individual centers' clinical systems and plans for responding to emergencies.
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