Too many women are admitted to the hospital unnecessarily for preterm labor, and the problem is contributing to rising health care costs, suggests a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Researchers tracked 139 women admitted to a level III hospital in Arizona for preterm delivery over a 12-month period. Fifty (36%) of the women were admitted with a cervical length of 3 cm or greater -- which signifies a low risk of preterm labor and for which hospitalization and treatment are not indicated. None of the 50 women delivered preterm. Hospital charges, however, for these women exceeded $1 million. In each case, the diagnosis of preterm labor was made by unreliable methods, say the authors, including uterine contractions assessed by tocodynamometry and/or the women's perception and by manual cervical examination. The authors assert that transvaginal ultrasound accurately measures cervical length and that the use of that measurement to rule out false preterm labor could reduce unnecessary hospitalizations and control spiraling care costs. Read the abstract.

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