Skip Navigation U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Agency for Healthcare Research Quality
Archive print banner

Improving Maternal Health Care

This information is for reference purposes only. It was current when produced and may now be outdated. Archive material is no longer maintained, and some links may not work. Persons with disabilities having difficulty accessing this information should contact us at: Let us know the nature of the problem, the Web address of what you want, and your contact information.

Please go to for current information.

The Next Generation of Research

Conference Summary

On September 18-19, 2000, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) convened a conference on the next generation of research in maternal health. It focused on issues related to the content, quality, and use of maternal health services.

Participants urged HHS agencies to enhance the maternal health research infrastructure by developing improved data standards and systems.

Select for Full Text.


In September 2000, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) convened a conference to discuss the next generation of research in maternal health care, with a focus on issues related to the content, quality, and use of maternal health care services.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) were joined in this effort by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also participated.

The conference participants urged the HHS agencies to take steps to enhance the maternal health research infrastructure through development of improved data standards and systems. They also called for increased public investment in a more rigorous assessment of programs and practices to improve maternal health and birth outcomes and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes. Major recommendations arising from the conference follow.

Content of Maternal Health Care

  • Systematically review the science related to prenatal care interventions to identify and study those that have not been proven to be effective and need further study.
  • Shift the current focus on prenatal care to encompass a continuum of care starting at preconception and spanning the spectrum of women's experiences with reproductive health services. Move beyond the focus on low birthweight issues to study maternal, perinatal, infant, and child mortality and morbidity.

Quality of Maternal Health Care

  • Develop and validate new methods for measurement of quality in maternal health care to consider optimal outcomes, impact on subsequent pregnancies, and less conventional outcomes such as decreased morbidity and developmental handicaps.
  • Initiate a systematic evaluation of proposed quality indicators or practice guidelines based on the specific outcomes expected. Create mechanisms and tools that promote adherence to and use of standards.

Disparities in Access, Use, and Delivery of Services

  • Expand research to explore the impact of prenatal care on diverse populations as defined by medial, demographic, cultural, and socioeconomic characteristics, with analyses to assess each factor independently as it affects perinatal outcomes.
  • Develop methods to identify and assess the reasons for variations or pockets of adverse outcomes among women receiving maternal health care services. Evaluate targeted interventions to improve health outcomes.
  • Examine racial and ethnic disparities in the advice, content, or quality of care provided by health professionals and study ways to enhance cultural sensitivity.

Intervention Models

  • Test models that address multifaceted problems and the social determinants of maternal health, including domestic violence and substance abuse.
  • Examine what influences women's health knowledge and behaviors, assess the impact of social marketing strategies, and identify the types of care preferred by different groups of women.

Data and Information Needs

  • Invest in research and demonstration efforts to develop improved data systems to monitor care and study the impact of maternal health services on outcomes of care. Improve vital records systems, expand use of electronic recordkeeping, and standardize data elements, definitions, and measures.
  • Initiate a perinatal study to gather obstetric and pediatric information from selected hospitals across the country. Use managed care and Medicaid data in States that link mother-child health records to assess the usefulness of quality indicators. Develop prenatal care guidelines for high-risk and vulnerable populations, and systematically validate practice guidelines for internists, family practitioners, and obstetricians.

Translating Research into Practice

  • Develop stronger interagency communication and cooperation, and work with the private sector to develop improved designs for studies, analyses, and applications.
  • Promote the concept of a virtual knowledge base in maternal health, and coordinate and update best practices by linking information from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), AHRQ, HRSA, and CMS.
  • Develop a mechanism for training the next generation of health services researchers on maternal health clinical services.

Lastly, the participants recommended that AHRQ, HRSA, CDC and other agencies continue to meet annually with private-sector providers and organizations to exchange information on developments in the field, coordinate research plans, and collaborate on addressing future needs.

Current as of June 2002


The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.


AHRQ Advancing Excellence in Health Care