Background: This paper examines the practice implications of a policy initiative, namely, offering women in Ontario Canada up to a 60-hour postpartum in-hospital stay following an uncomplicated vaginal delivery. This change was initiated out of concern for the effects of 'early' discharge on the health of mothers and their infants. We examined who was offered and who accepted extended stays, to determine what factors were associated with the offer and acceptance of this option, and the impact that these decisions had on post-discharge health status and service utilization of mothers and infants.
Methods: The data reported here came from two related studies of health outcomes and service utilization of mothers and infants. Data were collected from newly delivered mothers who had uncomplicated vaginal deliveries. Questionnaires prior to discharge and structured telephone interviews at 4-weeks post discharge were used to collect data before and after policy implementation. Qualitative data were collected using focus groups with hospital and community-based health care managers and providers at each site. For both studies, samples were drawn from the same five purposefully selected hospitals. Further analysis compared postpartum health outcomes and post discharge service utilization of women and infants before and after the practice change.
Results: Average length of stay (LOS) increased marginally. There was a significant reduction in stays of <24 hours. The offer of up to a 60-hour LOS was dependent upon the hospital site, having a family physician, and maternal ethnicity. Acceptance of a 60-hour LOS was more likely if the baby had a post-delivery medical problem, it was the woman's first live birth, the mother identified two or more unmet learning needs in hospital, or the mother was unsure about her own readiness for discharge. Mother and infant health status in the first 4 weeks after discharge were unchanged following introduction of the extended stay option. Infant service use also was unchanged but rate of maternal readmission to hospital increased and mothers' use of community physicians and emergency rooms decreased.
Conclusion: This research demonstrates that this policy change was selectively implemented depending upon both institutional and maternal factors. LOS marginally increased overall with a significant decrease in <24-hour stays. Neither health outcomes nor service utilization changed for infants. Women's health outcomes remained unchanged but service utilization patterns changed.