Its 2 a.m. and your water breaks. Moments later you find yourself wide-awake and hobbling to the bathroom as your husband stirs from sound asleep to dazed and confused.

“Are you sure?” he asks.

What a dumb question. But the truth is, you’re not sure. As first-time parents you both felt prepared as you went to bed – after all, you took those birth classes at the hospital a few months ago. But now all is forgotten. And so, in a frenetic conversation held through the bathroom door, you try to decide if you should call the after-hours number or head straight to the hospital.     

Dr. Lewis Lipscomb, OB/GYN physician leader at Novant Health for the greater Winston-Salem market, says this very real scenario is the reason why Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center recently installed the region’s first obstetrics emergency department (OB-ED) to enhance its maternity service offerings.

Dealing with the ‘what ifs’

It’s not unusual for first-time parents to worry about all of the ‘what ifs’ leading up to the big day.

“A certain degree of anxiety is the norm,” Lipscomb said. “What I like to tell patients is that you don’t ever have to have permission to come to the hospital. The notion that a young expectant family might be sitting at home worried about what to do next is an unnecessary anxiety when we can treat their needs right away.”

The new OB-ED, which opened Oct. 2, enhances maternity care by adding an extra layer of physician support to the well-established labor and delivery unit at the hospital.

Since 1914, Forsyth Medical Center has delivered more than 300,000 babies and is continuously looking for ways to improve upon the patient experience.  

“We discovered that there was a need for patients to be able to come to the hospital at any hour of the day and be able to see a board-certified obstetrician, with experience managing any kind of pregnancy complication,” Lipscomb said. “Addressing this need was a huge step forward in the delivery of OB care in our area.”  

How it works

Women with pregnancy concerns or emergency needs may now skip the traditional hospital emergency room and go straight to the fourth floor OB-ED after they reach the 14-week mark of their pregnancy.

The OB-ED is located in what was formerly referred to as the labor and delivery triage area of the hospital.

“The location may be the same, but the staffing is quite different,” Lipscomb said. “Historically, triage was staffed by registered nurses who would contact the OB on call should a need arise. Now, the OB-ED is staffed 24/7 by a board-certified obstetrician.”

The goal: assure patients that they are going to get their needs met in a timely fashion by an experienced obstetrician.  

Caring for everyone  

Another common concern for expectant mothers is that baby may come early.

At Forsyth Medical Center, premature babies are cared for in the advanced 56-bed neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The NICU is well-equipped with a team of highly-trained doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, lactation consultants, nurses and many more. On average, the NICU cares for 1,100 premature babies every year.

Thanks to the NICU, Forsyth Medical Center serves as a tertiary referral center for 22 surrounding counties.

“When someone presents to a rural hospital that does not have a NICU, and there is potential that that baby may need to be born, that facility can transport the patient to us,” Lipscomb said. “For more than 40 years we have taken care of transfers. So, if a patient finds themselves in that situation, they can trust that we can take care of them.”  

‘But what about my doctor?’

Some patients also worry that the OB-ED doctor may not have access to their primary obstetrician or their medical record should they go straight to the hospital.

“We have come a long way when it comes to continuity of care,” Lipscomb said. “Today, when a patient comes to the OB-ED, we can access their electronic medical record through MyChart. This means that we can pick up right where that patient’s home physician left off. As soon as the patient is addressed, the OB-ED physician then calls the primary OB to provide an update.”

Should that patient need to be admitted to the hospital, she is done so under the care of her primary obstetrician.

Advice for patients

Perhaps the most important thing for new parents to remember is that they are not alone.

“The biggest thing I would ask my patients to avoid is to sit at home and to not ask questions,” Lipscomb said. “And to know that if they need attention at any time related to their pregnancy that they can come to the hospital where we have the most experienced physicians and medical team available to make sure mom and baby are happy and healthy.”

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