Hospital visits don’t raise pregnant patients’ chances of contracting COVID

BOSTON, Mass. — Visiting a doctor’s office or hospital can be a stressful experience at any time. During a viral pandemic, these facilities can provoke an entirely new level of anxiety. Millions right now are afraid to visit the doctors, nurses, and surgeons they need over COVID-19 infection concerns. Now, however, a study finds that pregnant women have little chance of contracting coronavirus when entering a medical facility.

Researchers at Brigham Women’s Hospital say the number of times pregnant women visited four Boston-area hospitals had no meaningful impact on their risk of contracting COVID-19. All in all, these findings suggest that hospitals and in-person medical clinics are quite capable of providing adequate care to patients while simultaneously keeping them safe from the coronavirus.

“One major concern in obstetrics, but also in general medicine, is that patients are avoiding necessary medical care because of fear of contracting COVID-19 in a health care setting, but there was no indication that in-person health care affects risk of infection,” says corresponding study author Dr. Sharon Reale in a media release. “Our study provides important evidence that we can do in-person visits safely. Our findings should be reassuring for our obstetrical patients that when they come to the hospital for appointments, they are not increasing their risk of infection.”

Mothers-to-be rely on in-person care

A lot of patients have switched over to corresponding with their doctors digitally via telemedicine. This however really isn’t a viable option for a pregnant woman. At least a few in-person visits are necessary over the course of the pregnancy to make sure both mother and child are healthy.

The data that made this research possible was collected between April and June of this year. At that time, the Boston area was seeing a big surge in coronavirus cases. Consequently, four local hospitals (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and North Shore Medical Center) started testing all pregnant patients for COVID-19 upon admission.

Over the course of their work, the research team utilized a “case-control” approach to the data. This means they took pregnant patients who did test positive for coronavirus and matched them up with COVID-19 free patients. Researchers organized patient data on the basis of gestational age, ethnicity and race, insurance type, and the rate of new coronavirus cases in the patient’s zip code.

No increased risk for pregnant women

During the study, close to 3,000 women gave birth in the four hospitals, with 111 testing positive for COVID-19.

On average, patients who tested positive visited the hospitals in person 3.1 times during their pregnancy. Meanwhile, the average visit rate for COVID-19 free patients was 3.3 hospital trips, with some visiting up to 16 visits. The study’s authors conclude there is no significant link between visiting medical facilities more often and increased coronavirus risk.

Mass General Brigham (the entity overseeing all four hospitals) instituted a mandatory mask policy early on in the pandemic. This may have helped keep patients visiting such facilities coronavirus free.

“Results will need to be replicated outside of obstetrics, but this should be reassuring and indicate that necessary and important care should be done and can be done safely,” Dr. Reale concludes.

The study is published in JAMA.

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