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Practice patterns during the third stage of labor: the effect of physician age and specialty.

BACKGROUND. Elective manual removal of the placenta and routine uterine exploration following vaginal delivery are controversial procedures. Although advocated in the past, little is known about current attitudes and practices related to these procedures.

METHODS. Using a mailed questionnaire, we surveyed all 178 Iowa obstetrician-gynecologists and a random sample of 163 Iowa family physicians to determine their practice patterns related to selected aspects of the third stage of labor. The data were analyzed using odds ratios and multiple logistic regression.

RESULTS. The analysis was based on answers from 302 physicians. Physicians in the oldest age quartile were three times more likely than physicians in the youngest age quartile to routinely explore the uterus after a vaginal delivery (P<.01). After controlling for specialty, younger physicians were more likely to believe that manual removal of the placenta is a risk factor for endometritis (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 0.7 for each l O@year increase in age, 95% confidence interval [Cl] 0.6 to 1.0). Controlling for age, family physicians were more likely than obstetrician-gynecologists to routinely order prophylactic antibiotics after manually removing the placenta (adjusted OR 2.0, 95% Cl 1.1 to 3.7).

CONCLUSIONS. Both physician age and specialty were associated with selected practice patterns involving the third stage of labor. Older physicians were less likely to believe that manually removing a placenta increases the risk of postpartum endometritis, and they were more likely to routinely explore the uterus after a vaginal delivery.

KEY WORDS. Labor stage, third; physician's practice patterns@ physicians, family@ obstetrics. CJ Fam Pract lqff,.

Obstetricians have debated the risks and benefits of elective manual removal of the placenta and routine uterine exploration after vaginal delivery.[1-3] In the preantibiotic era, these procedures were associated with high rates of infectious morbidity, which often approached 50%.[4,5] After the introduction of antibiotics, several investigators recommended routine exploration of the uterus to remove unsuspected retained placental fragments, thereby reducing the risk of postpartum hemorrhage.[6-9] Large uncontrolled patient series in the 1950s appeared to document the safety of this procedure.[7-9]

Manual removal of the placenta was also thought to be a safe procedure.[10] A recent study, however, reported that manual removal of the placenta is a risk factor for postpartum endometritis.[11] Before this study was published, we surveyed Iowa family physicians and obstetrician-gynecologists to determine their self-reported practice patterns for selected aspects of the third stage of labor. Many studies have found that family physicians use fewer interventions than obstetrician-gynecologists.[12-18] Most of these studies did not control for physician age, however, which is often an important predictor of practice patterns.[19,20] The purpose of the present study was to explore the effect of age and specialty on practice patterns related to the third stage of labor.

METHODS

In June 1993, we mailed questionnaires to all 178 Iowa obstetrician-gynecologists and a random sample of 163 Iowa family physicians who practiced obstetrics. Potential participants were identified using a physician database that is maintained by the University of Iowa This database includes the physician's birth date, sex, specialty, and type of training (allopathic vs osteopathic). Physicians were eligible for the study if their self-identified specialty was family practice or obstetrics-gynecology. We excluded retired physicians and physicians in training, and we excluded family physicians who did not practice obstetrics. To identify family physicians who practiced obstetrics, we telephoned their office receptionists. After calling the receptionists of 430 physicians in random order, we identified 163 who practiced obstetrics.

The survey instrument consisted of five questions that explored beliefs and practice patterns related to the third stage of labor: (1) Is manual removal of a placenta a risk factor for the development of post-partum endometritis? (2) Do you routinely give prophylactic antibiotics after manually removing a placenta? (3) Do you selectively give prophylactic antibiotics after manually removing a placenta? (4) Do you routinely explore the uterus after spontaneous expulsion of the placenta? (5) Do you routinely remove the placenta manually (hand inside the uterus) after all vaginal deliveries?

The responses of family physicians were compared with those of obstetrician-gynecologists using the chi-square statistic. Physician age groups were compared using the chi-square test for trend.[21,22] We explored independent associations using multiple logistic regression.

RESULTS

The response rate for the obstetrician-gynecologists was 91% (162 of 178), and for family physicians, the response rate was 93% (151 of 163). Eleven obstetrician-gynecologist respondents were subsequently excluded because they returned blank questionnaires with notes stating that they no longer practiced obstetrics. Therefore, the final sample included 151 obstetrician-gynecologists and 151 family physicians. The obstetricians were older, on average, than the family physicians (45.6 +/- 9.9 years vs years, P=.02). Female physicians comprised 17% of all respondents, and 14% of respondents were osteopathic physicians.

Of the 302 respondents, 217 (72%) said that manual removal of the placenta is a risk factor for post-partum endometritis. Only 54 (18%) said that they routinely give prophylactic antibiotics after manually removing the placenta. Among physicians who did not give antibiotics routinely, 140 (57%) said they give antibiotics selectively. Forty-seven physicians (16%) said that they routinely explore the uterus after spontaneous expulsion of the placenta. None of the respondents said that they routinely perform manual removal of the placenta.

Physicians in the youngest age quartile (30 to 37 years; were 40% more likely than physicians in the oldest age quartile (50 to 83 years) to believe that manual removal of the placenta increases the risk of postpartum endometritis (P<.01). Physicians in the oldest age quartile were three times more likely than physicians in the youngest age quartile to explore the uterus after spontaneous expulsion of the placenta (P<.01). Physician age did not predict the routine use of prophylactic antibiotics after manually removing a placenta. Among physicians who did not give routine antibiotics, however, physicians in the youngest age quartile were 34% more likely than physicians in the oldest age quartile to selectively use prophylactic antibiotics (P<.01).

Obstetrician-gynecologists were less likely than family physicians to believe that manual placental removal is a risk factor for endometritis (P=.05). Obstetrician-gynecologists were less likely to give prophylactic antibiotics routinely (P=.04). and more likely to give them selectively (P=.05). They tended to routinely explore the uterus more often than family physicians did (P=.09).

Because both specialty and physician age were associated with beliefs and practice patterns, we used multiple logistic regression to identify independent associations. We found that younger physicians were more likely to believe that manual removal of the placenta is a risk factor for endometritis, but after controlling for age, physician specialty did not reach statistical significance Table). Using similar logistic models, we found that, after controlling for physician age, family physicians were more likely than obstetricians to use antibiotics routinely after manually removing the placenta. Among physicians who did not use antibiotics routinely, both young physician age and the obstetrics specialty were independently associated with selective antibiotic use. Finally, we found that older physicians were more likely to routinely explore the uterus, but after controlling for age, obstetricians were not more likely than family physicians to explore the uterus. There were no significant differences in beliefs or practice patterns between male and female physicians or between osteopathic and allopathic physicians.

[TABULAR DATA OMITTED]

DISCUSSION

In this study, physician age was an important predictor of practice patterns related to the third stage of labor. Older physicians were less likely to believe that manual removal of the placenta increases the endometritis risk, and they were more likely to routinely explore the uterus.

Our findings are consistent with other studies that found strong associations between physician age and practice patterns.[19,20] For example, in a Canadian study, both older physicians and family physicians were less likely to perform vaginal delivery after cesarean delivery[19]; however, a multivariate analysis determined that older physician age, but not specially, independently predicted lower rates of vaginal birth after cesarean delivery.[19]

We can only speculate about the underlying causes for the age differences we found. Older physicians may have difficulty staying current with advances in medicine, or they may feel more comfortable practicing as they were trained, or they may have altered their practice based on memorable occurrences. Although many studies found lower levels of knowledge and compliance with guidelines among older physicians,[19,23-25] others found no association with age[27-29] or even the opposite trend.[30,31]

Family physicians are less likely than obstetricians to use labor induction, epidural analgesia, and forceps delivery.[12-18] In spite of these differing practice patterns, patient outcomes do not vary between the two specialties.[12-18] In these studies, the investigators controlled for differences in patient characteristics, but usually not physician characteristics, such as age or other demographic variables.

In an attempt to explain the age differences in this study, we reviewed the last 10 editions of Williams Obstetrics, a standard obstetrics textbook.[2,32-40] In the 1950 edition, the editors recommended waiting 60 minutes before manually removing a retained placenta. By 1956, the recommendation was to wait only 30 minutes, and by 1966, only 5 minutes. Since 1985, no specific time guidelines have been included in the text. The practice differences we found were better explained by assertions in the journal literature[6-9] than by changes in textbook recommendations.

Our findings should be interpreted cautiously because we studied only Iowa physicians, and the extent to which our findings can be generalized to others is unknown. We analyzed a small number of explanatory variables, and other physician characteristics or practice settings might have helped explain the differences we found. We surveyed only family physicians who practiced obstetrics, but we surveyed all obstetrician-gynecologists. This discrepancy could have partially explained the difference in mean age between the two specialties. However, the discrepancy does not explain the age or specialty differences we found because both variables were included in the midtivariate analysis. Finally, our data consist of self-reports, which may vary from actual practice.

Family physicians' practice patterns are often compared with the practice patterns of other specialties.[12-20,41-42] Both specialty and physician age should be included in these analyses because both variables may independently predict beliefs and practices, and because these variables may be confounders for each other in populations where physician age varies by specialty.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This study was supported by the University of Iowa Research Development Fund, grant No. 2310017.

REFERENCES

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Author:Ely, John W.; Howser, Donald M.; Dawson, Jeffrey D.; Bowdler, Noelle C.; Rijhsinghani, Asha
Publication:Journal of Family Practice
Date:Dec 1, 1996
Words:2733
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