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Most Maternal Deaths Reported In 2012 Were Labeled Incorrectly, Texas Researchers Find

Brochures about childbirth are available for patients at The Children's Hospital of San Antonio.
Lynda Gonzalez for KUT
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Brochures about childbirth are available for patients at The Children's Hospital of San Antonio.

State researchers say a majority of maternal deaths reported in Texas in 2012 were coded incorrectly.

According to a study published Monday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers were able to confirm just 56 out of 147 obstetric deaths that year – that is, deaths occurring within 42 days of childbirth. 

The study was conducted in response to research published in August 2016 by national researchers that found Texas’ maternal mortality rate doubled in a two-year period. State epidemiologists say the underlying data used in that study was faulty. (Those national researchers also reported a problem with data in a follow-up study published earlier this year.)KUT's Ashley Lopez reports

Sonia Baeva, an epidemiologist with the Texas Department of State Health Services, said she and other researchers combed through records of 147 reported maternal deaths.

Baeva said they checked state databases and called some of the people who reported the deaths.

“They would admit that they made a mistake or that there was no way that the woman was pregnant,” she said. “So for the majority of cases we did obtain the relevant information and found out that a vast majority were labeled incorrectly.”

Natalie Archer, another epidemiologist with DSHS, said that means the mortality rate isn’t as high as first reported. She said it also means the state has work to do to improve death reporting practices.

Chris Van Deusen, a spokesperson for DSHS, said in a statement last week that a workgroup is helping health officials implement better reporting practices.

“We have a survey out right now to justices of the peace, health care facilities and medical examiners to learn more about their death certificate practices and get a better understanding of how that varies from place to place,” he said. “That will all help the workgroup develop new training and education for medical certifiers.”

Van Deusen said they are also looking at possibly improving technology and state policies.

“I do think the data will improve and should become more reliable for reporting statistics – even such as maternal mortality,” Baeva said.

Copyright 2018 KUT 90.5

Ashley Lopez is a reporter forWGCUNews. A native of Miami, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a journalism degree.
Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.