Cover: United States Doula Programs and Their Outcomes

United States Doula Programs and Their Outcomes

A Scoping Review to Inform State-Level Policies

Published in: Women's Health Issues (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.whi.2024.03.001

Posted on rand.org Jun 28, 2024

by Gabriela Alvarado, Dana Schultz, Nipher Malika, Nastassia Reed

Background

The field of maternal health has advanced significantly over the past decades. However, the United States continues to have poor outcomes in comparison with other industrialized nations. With emerging evidence on the promise of doula care, states are including doula care under their Medicaid programs.

Methods

We conducted a scoping review across four academic databases and gray literature published between January 1, 2012, and March 10, 2022, to describe the landscape of literature on U.S. doula programs and their outcomes in order to inform state policy makers considering laws or programs related to doula care.

Findings

Of 740 records identified, 100 met inclusion criteria. Outcomes fell into four areas: birthing people's outcomes, infant outcomes, systems of care and implementation, and cross-cutting issues. Data on outcomes related to doula care in the literature were predominantly clinical, even though doulas are not clinical providers. Although some studies have found associations between doula care and improved clinical outcomes for birthing people and infants, the evidence is limited due to small sample sizes, study methodology, or conflicting conclusions. Doula outcomes are underexplored in the literature, with mainly qualitative data describing low levels of diversity and equity within the doula workforce and ineffective payment models. When cost-effectiveness estimates have been calculated, they largely rely on savings realized from averted cesarean births, preterm births, and neonatal intensive care unit admissions.

Conclusions

As state Medicaid programs expand to include doula care, policymakers should be aware of the limitations in the evidence as they plan for successful implementation, such as the narrow focus on certain clinical outcomes to quantify cost savings and conflicting conclusions on the impact of doula care. An important consideration is the impact of the reimbursement rate on the adoption of doula care, which is why it is important to engage doulas in compensation determinations, as well as the development of improved metrics to untangle the components that contribute to maternal health outcomes in the United States.

Research conducted by

This report is part of the RAND external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.