Where Have All the Doctors Gone?
Tracey Rosato of Fairfield, Connecticut, was elated when her home pregnancy test came out positive. But when she called her ob-gyn of 15 years to schedule her first obstetric (ob) appointment, she was distraught to learn that he was no longer delivering babies. "The nurse told me that because of the rising cost of malpractice insurance, my doctor would be dropping the obstetrics practice and just practicing as a gynecologist," Rosato says. "I was really at a loss."
Finding and keeping an ob-gyn is becoming harder and more complicated for many women. In the past five years, more and more doctors who care for pregnant women have retired early, moved out of state, or simply dropped the practice of delivering babies from their list of services. Is this a crisis? That depends on where you live. In some states, the drop-off in ob numbers is a minor inconvenience, requiring some additional research and hassle. But for other communities, there's a true shortage of ob-gyn care. In 12 states identified by the American Medical Association as being in crisis, 39 percent of ob-gyns surveyed earlier this year were planning to discontinue their obstetrics services. "As that happens, we start to hear the stories: a woman who had to find a new doctor four times during her pregnancy, delays in getting appointments, delays in getting care," says Charles Hammond, MD, a professor of ob-gyn at Duke University and immediate past president of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG).
How did we get here? A number of factors -- legal, social, and generational -- have converged in the ob-gyn industry to create what one frustrated doctor called a "perfect storm" in the baby business.