The antenatal anesthesia clinic for pregnant women with concurrent medical conditions in our center has changed practice. Prior to establishment of the clinic, delays in care occurred while additional information was sought to provide optimal anesthesia given the concurrent medical conditions. Now, pregnant women with concurrent medical conditions who have attended the clinic, present to the labor ward with an individualized anesthesia plan already set in motion. Antenatal anesthesia clinics in the U.S. and U.K. have reported similar utility gained [15, 17].
Concurrent cardiac disease occurs in approximately 1% of pregnant women . Among the 72,000 deliveries managed in Hadassah since establishment of the clinic, cardiac disease would be expected in about 7000 women. Yet only 66 women with cardiac disease were referred, raising the possibility that many others were not referred and did not undergo optimized labor preparations. A similar phenomenon was reported in a neighboring medical center in Jerusalem , concurring with reports from other countries on non-referral of pregnant women despite the potential for benefit [12, 15,16,17]. We know that many women who delivered in our institution had cardiac conditions; but these were not charted. Thus the precise frequency of underlying cardiac conditions in our population is unknown.
Women view delivery as a unique experience and are likely have specific analgesia plans in mind. It is important to avoid disappointment, particularly if neuraxial analgesia is desired . Our clinic provided pregnant women who were unsure if neuraxial block was possible due to a hematologic condition, with an alternative analgesia options for labor.
Last-minute anesthesia planning and management of complicated laboring women, which was avoided for women seen in our clinic, can manifest as far more than a nuisance during delivery. It can be associated with maternal deaths [20, 22]. The UK CAPS study reported that almost a quarter of maternal cardiac arrests occurred purely as a consequence of anesthesia complications .
With deaths associated with cardiac or neurological disease, so-called indirect causes of maternal death, overtaking traditional causes for maternal morbidity and mortality globally, efforts should be focused on women with concurrent medical conditions [1, 3, 23]. One in ten laboring women in developed countries has at least one concurrent medical condition [3, 24]. There is no reason to assume that this figure differs in Israel. If anything, the chance of complications during pregnancy in the lifetime of an Israeli woman with high fertility rates  may be expected to be higher, compounded by easily accessible assisted reproduction and advanced maternal age pregnancies .
Rather than investigate the frequencies and impact of concurrent medical conditions on maternal labor outcomes, the obstetrical community in Israel parades the low maternal mortality rates  as proof of admirable care. Israel does not have or use maternal morbidity reports, thus lacks a mechanism to record or report morbidities according to WHO near-miss criteria . It seems clear that this reflects the lack of awareness in our region towards this major global issue of maternal health.
The current Israeli antenatal model is comprised of two distinct pathways wherein medical information is sequestered; HMO community physicians provide antenatal care and hospital physicians provide care for labor and delivery. These frequently disconnected pathways embody the fragmentation of care that contributes to adverse maternal outcomes . Antenatal anesthesia clinics function as a bridge between these pathways. Fifteen years after the opening of Israel’s first antenatal anesthesia clinic in Hadassah, most currently running clinics are in the center of the country, two are in the north and none in the south of Israel.
Given that 27 labor and delivery units between them manage approximately 180, 000 annual deliveries in Israel, and the 10% prevalence of maternal concurrent conditions, about18, 000 women per year throughout the country likely should be assessed prior to labor and delivery. This requires sufficient new clinics to handle these women. The location of such clinics should take into consideration accessibility for pregnant women, the availability of specialty consults, and options for further investigations; and this may vary according to the availability of these services, geographical limitations and cultural sensitivities. Regardless of clinic location all information on maternal medical conditions must be communicated to the hospital medical staff. This should occur when the woman selects her delivery hospital rather than at the time of delivery. Furthermore, Israel is one of the first countries in the world to have a certified Obstetric Anesthesia Fellowship program. These experts should be active partners in the antenatal high-risk clinics.
As expected, musculoskeletal conditions were the foremost reason for referral our clinic, as they comprised 30% of referrals in another Israeli antenatal anesthesia clinic , and 60% in a Canadian clinic . Despite being a prevalent cause of concern for pregnant women, musculoskeletal conditions are missing from the 2011 MOH list . Other significant reasons for referrals were contraindications to neuraxial anesthesia, prior severe allergic reactions, anticipated difficult airway management and severe neurologic conditions (e.g. multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis) all of which potentially endanger the mother and were not included on the MOH list. The list of conditions published in the 2017 ACOG Practice Bulletin  includes musculoskeletal conditions. The results of our study indicate that the Israeli Ministry of Health should update its 2011 memo to reflect the prevalence of concurrent medical conditions.
Current antenatal assessments focus predominantly on potential fetal concerns rather than maternal ones [7, 18]. The HMOs know when a woman is pregnant, and using health information technology should know if she has a relevant medical condition. If this is the case, a referral can be generated to the antenatal clinic who will have a responsibility to refer her for anesthesia evaluation. The high-risk antenatal services in the HMO and hospitals should be providing care for mothers at risk. The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges in their 2016 recommendation of antenatal care that women are the best custodians of their medical information. The paper copy of their pregnancy details that women carry  should also contain thorough and pertinent medical details.
Once a pregnancy in a woman with concurrent medical conditions has been flagged by her clinician, completion of a medical checklist may be set as a prerequisite to access to care. An antenatal care checklist was introduced in 2001 by the WHO, and such a list should accompany women’s pregnancy and delivery care. The Israeli model checklist should be generated based both upon the prevalence of concurrent medical conditions, and potential maternal morbidities. It should be generated by a multidisciplinary task force of obstetricians, HMO physicians, anesthesiologists and intensive care physicians. The primary reason to create checklists is to ensure a safety net for maternal care within the correct framework. This would ensure referral to an obstetrician experienced in management of high risk women. We therefore propose that the high risk antenatal clinic flag the mother for one or both pathways: maternal concerns, led by an obstetric anesthesiologist and involving obstetrics, anesthesia, and expert consults; and obstetric/fetal risk, managed as is done today. A secondary advantage of having a mandatory computerized medical checklist is the creation of the registry needed to inform future policy decisions. In addition, selective referral to specialist care can cause anxiety . Thus, another benefit of establishing standard referral pathways is the opportunity to overcome concerns and improve compliance by establishing that routine excellent care involves referral of mothers in specific instances to ensure the best pregnancy outcome.
Attending pre-anesthesia clinics has been demonstrated to be cost-beneficial for non-pregnant patients. Relevant benefits observed include reduced morbidity and increased efficiency and patient satisfaction [11, 31]. However, similar to other studies of antenatal anesthesia clinics , we do not have the data at this time to report cost benefit. Nonetheless, we are aware anecdotally of women who may have benefited from the antenatal anesthesia clinic.
One major study limitation is that we do not know the frequencies of concurrent morbidities of women who did not attend the antenatal anesthesia clinic in our laboring population. Concurrent medical conditions were not recorded reliably in our labor ward EMR and when listed were not according to the International Disease Classification. Thus, we do not know the number of women with concurrent morbidities who should have been referred to the antenatal anesthesia clinic. The only robust medical condition information available was our data from the antenatal anesthesia clinic. In addition, we do not include women hospitalized antenatally with concurrent medical conditions who were assessed by an anesthesiologist during the in-patient period.
Most medical centers, including Hadassah, have a preoperative anesthesia clinic to assess pregnant women who are planning elective cesarean delivery. Although we are not able to report these data, some women with concurrent medical conditions may have been assessed in this setting. Such a clinic could be extended to include all women with concurrent medical conditions who need antenatal anesthesia evaluations. However often this is an ad hoc service performed by over-stretched dedicated labor ward anesthesiologists, possibly performed by junior staff, and takes place close to the date of surgery. Most women in our cohort attended the antenatal anesthesia clinic in the early third trimester, leaving ample time for additional consults and investigations. Although flyers and personal letters were sent several times to the gynecologists and primary physicians servicing the Jerusalem area about the Hadassah antenatal anesthesia clinic, we do not know their awareness in the community of this service.
Multidisciplinary consults were performed on an ad hoc basis and we lack data regarding referrals to other medical disciplines. Some women presented with a specialist’s opinion in writing; this process should be refined to ensure specialists consider also anesthesia considerations when giving expert advice. In the past 12 months we have instituted an antenatal cardiac anesthesia clinic (cardiologists, anesthesiologists, intensivists, obstetricians, neonatologists, pulmonologists, and cardiothoracic surgeons) in order to streamline care for women with concurrent cardiac conditions. We did not assess the awareness of obstetricians regarding the importance of antenatal anesthesia assessment of women with concurrent medical conditions.
Although we report a wide range of morbidities seen in the clinic, ours is probably a biased sample. Women who attended the clinics were from all four Israeli HMOs, yet most were from the major Jerusalem HMOs, Maccabi and Meuhedet which does not reflect the prevalence of HMO membership of the country as a whole. It is not possible to know if this represents referral bias or a higher population of women with concurrent medical conditions in those two HMOs. We believe that it is likely that the prevalence of concurrent conditions is similar across HMOs, and we also believe that our study in the Jerusalem decrease the strength of the conclusions we draw for the country.
Finally, although we know that the epidural analgesia rate during the study period was 60%, unfortunately we do not have additional data on the frequency of use of alternative analgesia techniques in the laboring population of Hadassah Medical Center.