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Parents Can Now Use Yelp to Check Out Hospitals' C-Section, Breastfeeding Rates

Photograph by Twenty20

Long gone are the days when Yelp was just a restaurant review site to check for kid-friendly spaces within a one-mile radius. Today, the company launched a new feature to their pages that aims to make hospital decisions a little easier for expecting moms.

Because your birthing experiences can largely depend on the environment and facility you're in, it can feel downright paralyzing just to choose where you want to give birth. With Yelp's latest addition, some parents-to-be can now look up a hospital's maternity care data, which includes the facility's C-section rate (the percentage of C-section deliveries in low-risk pregnancies among moms having their first baby), breastfeeding rate (percentage of newborns fed only breast milk before being discharged), episiotomy rate, vaginal births after C-sections (VBACs) rates and whether or not VBACs are routinely available.

To view the data chart, look on the right side of the hospital's Yelp page, next to the section for user comments. You can see whether a hospital is well above, above, below, well below or average rate of care and who provided the data. You can also click "View More" for more maternity care data to see the facility's discount payment policies, languages available and ratings by patients.

Photograph by Yelp

Though expectant moms can get similar information from state websites, the information can be hard to find. So for this initial launch, Yelp partnered with California Health Care Foundation and Cal Hospital Compare to make the data more easily available and readable. It is also part of a larger push between Yelp and ProPublica to provide better medical information to consumers on hospitals, nursing homes dialysis clinics, even restaurants' health scores.

The maternity care data feature is currently available to parents in California only, where one in eight babies in the US is born, and include about 250 hospitals (the number of hospitals in the state that deliver babies). Parents in other states will have to wait a little longer, as Yelp works with governments and non-profits to provide data.

But whether or not this information will actually affect parents' decisions is unclear. Let's take the C-section rates, for instance. A study published in the journal Birth in January says that even among women with low-risk pregnancies who wish to avoid C-sections, 75 percent would still stay with their chosen hospital, no matter how much higher its C-section rate may be.

That's incredibly high when you consider that C-section rates for low-risk deliveries in the U.S. vary dramatically from hospital to hospital, even among those in the same communities.

"In California, ... C-section rates for low-risk mothers vary from 10 percent to 70 percent, depending on the hospital. The evidence suggests that a woman’s chance of having a C-section depends largely on the hospital where she delivers and the practices of her clinical team," writes Yelp spokesperson Shannon Eis.

Eis tells TechCrunch she had to go through a possibly unnecessary emergency C-section herself and hopes the feature can provide transparency.

"We hope that offering greater transparency into the performance of medical providers will hold doctors and hospitals accountable, and allow patients to select facilities that offer the highest quality care," she writes.

But with this transparency comes another issue. For those whose decisions will be affected by the data, are they interpreting the numbers accurately?

Last week, researchers from Columbia University and Princeton noticed that the rate of C-sections in low-risk pregnancies is too high, and the rate of C-section in high-risk pregnancies is too low. They are concerned that moms who are not trained to evaluate their own risk are seeking out hospitals and doctors with the lowest C-section rates, even though women should look for doctors with the best diagnostic skills and who could distinguish between high- and low-risk pregnancies instead.

Make no mistake, having access to this information at our fingertips is amazing. A little knowledge really can go a long way, for better or for worse, so use that data as a launching pad to dig a little deeper to see what's best for you, your baby and your circumstances. And whatever you do, let's hope you're not going to yelp in frustration.

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