Background: The loss of family physicians as obstetrics providers during the last decade has had a significant impact on access to obstetric services, especially for rural populations. The expense of malpractice premiums has been cited often as a reason for physicians' discontinuation of this service.
Methods: Seventy-six family physicians in northern California who recently discontinued obstetrics were surveyed regarding their decisions related to obstetric practice. Those physicians who indicated that a decrease in malpractice premiums would allow them to consider resuming obstetrics were resurveyed by telephone the following year. This telephone survey occurred following a 25 percent decrease in malpractice premiums for obstetrics by the major malpractice insurance carrier for family physicians practicing obstetrics in the study area.
Results: Twenty-nine of the 76 physicians in the original survey who had recently discontinued obstetrics stated they would consider resuming if conditions changed. Twenty-six (90 percent) of these physicians indicated that malpractice premiums needed to change for them to consider resuming obstetrics. Following the reduction in premiums, none of these physicians reported plans to resume obstetrics or even a likelihood that they would be resuming obstetrics.
Conclusion: This study found that family physicians who discontinued obstetrics and cited malpractice premiums as a barrier to resuming obstetrics are unlikely to resume when rates decline. This finding suggests that other issues might be equally or more important in this decision.