Objectives: This study was undertaken to examine the national and regional rates of operative delivery among almost one quarter million births in a single year in the nation's largest healthcare delivery system, using variation as an arbiter of the quality of decision making.
Study design: We compared the variation in rates of primary cesarean and operative vaginal delivery in facilities of the Hospital Corporation of America during the year 2004.
Results: In 124 facilities representing almost 220,000 births during a 1-year period, the primary cesarean and operative vaginal delivery rates were 19% +/- 5% (range 9-37) and 7% +/- 4% (range 1-23). Within individual geographic regions, we consistently found variations of 200-300% in rates of primary cesarean delivery and variations approximating an order of magnitude for operative vaginal delivery.
Conclusion: Within broad upper and lower limits, rates of operative delivery in the United States are highly variable and suggest a pattern of almost random decision making. This reflects a lack of sufficient reliable, outcomes-based data to guide clinical decision making.