The average rate of cesarean section surgeries for Florida hospitals was among the highest in the nation -- about 32 for every 100 deliveries -- according to a study released Wednesday by The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit that surveys hospitals for quality and safety measures.
The numbers, which were self-reported by Florida hospitals and included only first-time, low-risk mothers with single babies, exceeded the recommended target of about 24 for every 100 deliveries.
Hospitals in Miami, Hialeah, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood reported an even higher rate, about 45 for every 100 deliveries. There were wide variations, with some hospitals reporting C-sections in more than half of all deliveries. Some hospitals declined to report any data.
Nationally, most hospitals self-reporting C-section deliveries also exceeded the recommended rate, reflecting concerns from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists over the rapid increase in such deliveries from 1996 to 2011 without clear evidence that they lead to better outcomes.
Leapfrog's data were designed to help expectant parents choose a hospital for their childbirth, said Leah Binder, chief executive of the group. But, Binder said, she also hopes hospitals will use the data to reduce their rates of C-sections.
"What we see from this data," she said, "is that not all hospitals are the same, and your likelihood of needing a C-section is actually different depending on which hospital you choose. Because we see so much variation, we know hospitals need to set their sights on reducing these rates."
The C-section rate used by Leapfrog is endorsed by the Joint Commission, a nonprofit that accredits more than 20,000 U.S. hospitals and healthcare programs, and the measure only applies to first-time, low-risk moms with single babies who have reached their 37th week with the baby positioned head-down -- indicating a low risk of complication.
Survey results suggest that many hospitals are putting patients at risk by performing medically unnecessary procedures that also are more costly, Binder said.
"C-sections are major abdominal surgery," she said. "We're not talking about something that's just a minor fluke. We're talking about major surgery being performed on women, and probably unnecessarily."
According to a 2013 study by Truven Health Analytics, a healthcare consultant, average total payments for cesarean section deliveries were about 50 percent higher than average payments with vaginal births for both private insurance -- $27,866 vs. $18,329 -- and Medicaid, $13,590 vs. $9,131.
Still, the Leapfrog data have limitations. Some South Florida hospitals declined to report any data to the group. And Leapfrog appears to have excluded from the survey some hospitals that could have reported C-section rates.