Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pregnancy and Birth Outcomes

A couple years ago I requested all the birth certificate data from the Washington State Department of Health.  ETA:  Here is a link to the form that providers fill out after a baby is born. I am geeky and like databases.  I like researching pregnancy and birth and I wanted to see if I could get some more interesting results than the ones they post on their website.   At the time it was very simple.  I signed a paper saying I wouldn't give the actual data to anyone else and a CD came in the mail very quickly.  Granted the data was not in a format that was user friendly at all, but I got the data easily.  Now however is a different story. I asked for an update that included the 2008 and 2009 data, and the infant death data as well, and I am told that they are now charging $30 a file.  (I would have been charged $420 for the data I had previously received).  I am now thinking this is illegal because there was an article in the Seattle Times saying that they are trying to get legislation (but haven't yet) to allow them to charge because "civic gadflys" are wasting taxpayer money.  How rude.  I am not a gadfly.  On one hand I want to make a fuss on the principle of the matter, plus the freedom of information act is important, on the other hand maybe it really does take them a long time to get the data rounded up and they really are overwhelmed.

My plan is to do a series on this blog based on the resulting analysis.


I've taken the data from 2002 - 2007 (I have 2000 and 2001 as well, but the information collected changed in 2002 so its easier for me just to ignore the earlier data instead of trying to combine it somehow) and wrote a script to parse the fixed width delimited data and input it into a SQL Server database.

I've also written a script that allows me to execute a SQL query and import the results into Excel and create a chart of the data.  I have to admit I feel pretty studly that I have been able to do this.  I find it much easier to interpret the data visually and this makes it a lot easier to do.

I'm doing my best to be careful, accurate and use statistically sound analysis.  However I have no one checking my work.  If you find any errors PLEASE let me know.  

Most often when "studies" like this are done they are either done in a university setting, or are research funded by some interest group.  I belong to neither.  I have a B.S. in Computer Science and a minor in Math with a year of that being in statistics.  I've often thought that if I weren't a computer programmer I'd love to be a statistician, however it was quite a while ago since I've done any statistical analysis, so I'm doing my best.  I am currently unemployed and my primary responsibility is raising my children.   I was formerly employed at small company that makes exercise software for physical therapists.  

Besides being nerdy and enjoying analyzing data I have an interest in childbirth and pregnancy.  I believe in "evidence based" medical care and am an advocate for unmedicated birth, the midwife model of care, birth centers, and home births.  My first child was born at a birth center and I delivered her without medication.  My second child was supposed to be the same, but I ended up transferring to a hospital where she was born via cesarean.  My experiences made me wonder exactly what the rates of complications are for various situations, and are the risks and/or benefits exaggerated in the debate on what the best prenatal care consists of.  My goal is to provide some hard numbers that give women some more information so that they can do a risk/benefit analysis on the type of care they receive and their decisions regarding labor.  There is a lot of useful information in the birth certificate data, but there is also a lot of missing information that would make analysis better.  Some day I hope to create my own "ultimate birth survey" but till then, this will have to suffice.  

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