Journal of Rural Health 11:192-203, 1995.
In the late 1980s several published articles predicted a crisis in the availability of obstetric care due to declining numbers of rural obstetrical providers. Several state and national studies documented the adverse impact of malpractice and time demands on both urban and rural physicians. But only limited information is available to document current trends in rural obstetrical practice and assess whether or not the predicted crisis occurred. This study sought to provide that updated information for rural Minnesota. A telephone survey of all rural Minnesota obstetrical providers was used to document the number, location, and specialty of rural obstetrical providers, their practice limitations, and plans for future practice. This data was combined with state perinatal statistics for each county to further assess obstetrical care availability and perinatal outcomes. All rural Minnesota obstetricians and certified nurse midwives provide obstetrical care as did 69 percent of all rural family physicians. Only 27 percent of rural obstetrical providers put any type of restrictions on their obstetrical practices. During the past year, 67 currently practicing rural physicians have stopped providing obstetrical care while 55 new obstetrical providers have begun rural practice. Two to 3 percent of current rural providers plan to retire or discontinue obstetrical services during the next five years. The provider demographics from the survey identified eight counties with no prenatal providers, and 12 additional communities of decreased provider availability. However, only two of the counties with no prenatal providers and five of the counties with areas of limited providers had increased percentages of adverse prenatal outcomes such as low birthweight or late prenatal care. This study concluded that Minnesota does not have a serious statewide problem with availability of rural obstetrical providers. However, a few isolated regions of the state have limited provider availability, including limited availability of local high-risk services and consultants.