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Objective: To determine whether a schedule of fewer prenatal visits than traditional for women with low-risk pregnancies leads to additional medical services outside prescribed prenatal care.

Methods: In a randomized, controlled trial conducted within a group-model health maintenance organization, we studied 2328 pregnant women judged to be at low risk of adverse perinatal outcomes. After risk assessment and consent, women were assigned to an experimental (nine visits) or a control (14 visits) schedule, with additional visits if requested either by providers after identifying risks or by women seeking additional services. We recorded whether women underwent maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein screening, obstetric ultrasound examination at 15-24 weeks' gestation, hematocrit testing after 20 weeks, and diabetic screening. We also noted visits to nonobstetric care providers or our emergency care center, telephone calls, and hospitalizations.

Results: We found no significant differences between the two groups for prenatal blood tests, visits to nonobstetric providers or to the emergency care center, telephone calls from patients, or hospital admissions. A significantly greater percentage of women underwent ultrasound examinations at 15-24 weeks in the control group compared with the experimental group (57.3% and 53.1%, respectively; P = .045).

Conclusion: The reduction in prenatal visits achieved using the experimental schedule was not accompanied by an increase in the use of other medical services compared with the routine schedule. The use of the schedule proposed by the Expert Panel on the Content of Prenatal Care improved the efficiency of delivery of prenatal care to low-risk women.

(C) 1997 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists