Using public data, Which? has created a website to help parents easily understand crucial information that can help them make the best decisions ahead of their child's birth, says Sonia Sodha, the organisation's Head of Public Services and Consumer Rights Policy.
Which? Birth Choice is a free-to-use website that brings together everything expectant parents need to know to decide where to have their baby.
Information on different birth environments and personalised statistics are drawn together and presented in a way which recognises the importance of personal considerations alongside medical factors so that women can make an informed birth choice.
Which? Birth Choice stemmed from the desire of Which? to use available data to empower consumers in public services.
The Birthplace study (BMJ 2011) revealed that where women plan to have their baby has a significant impact on birth outcomes.
However Which? research found that at the beginning of their pregnancy a third (34%) of mothers said they knew nothing or not much about the amount of choice they had about where to give birth and half (49%) said the same about the different types of maternity units available to them.
Furthermore, as health data is often put into the public domain in a form that is useful to clinicians, Which? identified a real need for a site that could not only use evidence to help women make a birth place decision but to do so in an accessible and interactive way, enabling women and their partners to easily understand the information.
And so in January 2014, Which? Birth Choice was launched. Our unique and interactive ‘Find and Compare’ tool asks questions about an individual’s preferences and circumstances to present the options that may be best for them.
Women answer questions such as “Do you think you will want to use a birthing pool during labour?” on a sliding scale and provide their age and postcode.
Responses are combined with evidence on place of birth, NICE guidance and a database of maternity unit locations to propose which local maternity services are the “best fit” and a “good fit” for the woman.
All of the maternity units in the UK have their own unit page on which information about facilities and women’s experiences of care is displayed.
The data which is presented in easy-to-read bar charts is manipulated according to the answers a woman provides in the ‘Find and Compare’ tool to display stats for women who are statistically similar to them.
This makes the information relevant and ultimately more useful. Women and their partners can also view units side by side to make direct comparisons and understand the differences between them. Where a home birth is suggested as a suitable option there is plenty of evidence-based information provided to help inform their choice.
The site is currently receiving over 11,000 visits a month and our average visit time of 17 minutes indicates excellent levels of engagement.
Visitors to the site are exploring the advice articles and using the ‘Find and Compare’ tool. It has been well received by the midwifery community and the the Royal College of Midwives officially support us.
By providing both general information about labour wards, birth centres and home births as well as an interactive decision making tool the site empowers women and their partners to understand the potential benefits and risks of different maternity choices.
Understanding that they have a decision and what the impacts of that decision may be enables women and their partners to make an evidence-based choice that is best for them and their baby.