A mixed methods economic analysis of doula-service enhanced maternity care as compared with standard maternity care
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BACKGROUND: In the United States, racial and income disparities in maternity care outcomes are large and persistent. Research demonstrates that community doulas (specialized community health workers for pregnant, birthing and postpartum people) can improve maternal and infant outcomes. Despite this evidence, doulas have not yet been widely adopted in health services for low-income communities. One barrier to scale-up is understanding the costs and benefits of integrating doula services into maternity care payment systems. METHODS: An exploratory, sequential mixed methods study design was used to understand decision-maker perspectives on doulas in maternity care and apply these priorities to an economic evaluation of a randomized trial of enhanced doula support. 16 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with Medicaid, Accountable Care Organization (ACO) and maternity care decision makers in Massachusetts were conducted. Results from the qualitative study informed the design of an economic analysis of a pragmatic trial of doula support. A return on investment analysis, with a focus on areas of high financial impact and organized by segments of health care services was conducted. Program costs were analyzed using a micro-costing approach. Hospital data on health care costs and payments were used to calculate financial outcomes for both intervention and control groups. Sensitivity and sub-group analyses were developed to understand variations in impact for different populations, settings and doula program models. RESULTS: Decision-maker interviews revealed that health care organizations prioritize investments that promote improved population health, patient experience, cost reduction, and elimination of racial disparities in outcomes. Participants universally expressed interest in an analysis approach that provides information on return-on-investment outcomes, as well as the clinical and cost areas with the largest impact. The time frame of interest was primarily in the pregnancy and newborn episodes of care, with some participants expressing interest in longer term outcomes related to fewer first cesarean deliveries or preterm birth. The economic analysis found an 18% return on investment for the Best Beginnings for Babies doula intervention overall. Sensitivity analyses demonstrated the largest impact was for people with medical and social risk factors and for those who received at least 5 hours of prenatal home visits, as well as labor support. CONCLUSION: Medicaid and maternity care decision-makers are supportive of doula programs if they are affordable and can create cost savings. An economic analysis of the Birth Sisters Best Beginnings for Babies program found a positive return on investment, benefiting both health care payers and families. Community doula programs are a high-value innovation that should be reimbursed by Medicaid agencies.
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