Original Research

Emergency rural obstetric transfers in South Australia: a review of the clinical and precipitating factors


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Ashlee K Rigby1
MD, Resident Medical Officer *

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Janet N Richards2
BSc (Hons), Research Associate

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Jennene Greenhill3
PhD, Director


1 Flinders Medical Centre, Medical Sciences Road, Bedford Park, SA 5042, Australia

2 Flinders Rural Health SA, Flinders University, Ral Ral Avenue, Renmark, SA 5341, Australia

3 Flinders University Rural Clinical School, Flinders University, Ral Ral Avenue, Renmark, SA 5341, Australia

ACCEPTED: 5 November 2018

early abstract:

Introduction: The provision of critical management of obstetric emergencies is a vital service for rural women and their families. Emergency obstetric transfers are indispensable to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity because local rural hospitals often do not have the resources or expertise to manage both maternal and neonatal outcomes. However, the transfer of a rural pregnant woman to a higher level, tertiary perinatal centre (TPC) is often stressful for the patient and costly for health services. Currently, there is little known about the main reasons for obstetric transfers in rural South Australia, and even less information about the management of mothers and babies once they arrive at their destination. The present guidelines for informing the necessity of transferring from a rural or remote area to a tertiary perinatal centre (TPC) are unclear. This study aims to describe the clinical reasons for obstetric transfers from a rural area in South Australia and explore predictive factors of likelihood of delivery on transfer. Additionally, this study aims to determine the outcomes of transfers in terms of location of delivery, timing of delivery and explore the association between delivery after transfer and clinical reasons for transfer.

Methods: All women from the Riverland who were transferred antenatally at >20 weeks gestational age for an acute admission to a TPC over a five-year period were included in a retrospective review. Participants were determined from hospital coding data and medical case notes were retrieved for all participants. The demographic and clinical data, including details of the emergency presentation and outcomes of women transferred to a tertiary hospital were analysed with descriptive statistics (mean, SD). A logistic regression was performed for predictive factors associated with delivery on transfer.

Results: 160 patients were transferred antenatally. A minority of participants delivered on admission (35%). Of the women who were discharged undelivered, 43% eventually delivered at their rural hospital and the remainder delivered later in a tertiary hospital as part of a planned admission. The most common diagnoses for transfer were preterm labour, premature preterm rupture of membranes, antepartum haemorrhage and placental disorders.  Delivery on transfer was associated with preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM) and pre-eclampsia. Likelihood of delivery on transfer was not increased with preterm gestation, cervical dilation or other presenting diagnosis. There was not an association of increased number of indications for transfer and likelihood of delivering after transfer.

Conclusion: This study suggests that the rural doctor workforce appears to be well skilled at identifying obstetric emergencies despite the lack of guidance around what constitutes a high risk perinatal situation. Furthermore, this study quantifies the number of women who would potentially require support services associated with rural perinatal transfers from this area.  There was a comparatively lower rate of delivery on transfer, and as such, these women eventually delivered their babies either at their hospital of origin or returned to a metropolitan hospital as part of a planned admission for delivery. Further research is needed about the practical implications of transferring pregnant women to tertiary centres and clinical decision-making tools to improve this process.