Practice variations between family physicians and obstetricians in the management of low-risk pregnancies

J Fam Pract. 1995 Apr;40(4):345-51.


Background: Studies suggest that family physicians and other generalist physicians practice differently than specialists. This study was performed to determine whether practice patterns and outcomes differ for women with low-risk pregnancies who obtain maternity care from family physicians as compared with those who are cared for by obstetricians.

Methods: A retrospective chart review was performed at five sites across the United States. Women who presented for elective repeat cesarean section or who had any one of 14 high-risk conditions were excluded from the analysis. The final sample analyzed included 4865 women. Family physicians managed the labor of 2000 of these women, and obstetricians managed 2865.

Results: During intrapartum care, women managed by family physicians were less likely to have their labor induced (8.6% vs 10.4%, P = .03), receive oxytocin augmentation (14.9% vs 17.8%, P = .006), or receive epidural anesthesia (5.4% vs 17.0%, P < .001) as compared with those managed by obstetricians. Delivery outcomes showed that patients of family physicians were less likely to have an episiotomy during vaginal delivery (53.7% vs 74.5%, P < .001) and a lower frequency of cesarean section deliveries (9.3% vs 16.0%, P < .001), especially for cephalopelvic disproportion. When adjusted for potential confounders, rates for cesarean section and episiotomy for obstetricians were still significantly higher than those of family physicians. For neonatal outcomes (low 1-minute Apgar score, neonatal intensive care unit admission, birth trauma, or neonatal infection), no significant differences were found between the care delivered by obstetricians and family physicians.

Conclusions: Women obtaining maternity care from family physicians were less likely to receive epidural anesthesia during labor or an episiotomy after vaginal births, and had a lower rate of cesarean section delivery rates, primarily because of a decreased frequency in the diagnosis of cephalopelvic disproportion. Differences between outcomes persisted after adjustment for potential confounders such as parity, previous cesarean delivery, and use of epidural anesthesia during labor. No differences between the two physician groups with respect to neonatal outcomes were found.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Epidural
  • Cesarean Section
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Episiotomy
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Labor, Induced
  • Labor, Obstetric
  • Maternal Health Services*
  • Obstetric Labor Complications / diagnosis
  • Obstetrics*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome*
  • Prenatal Care
  • Retrospective Studies