A new study published in the journal PLOS One finds that a large share of obstetricians fail to advise their pregnant patients about harmful environmental factors that may cause complications in their pregnancies or harm a fetus. The survey found that, while 78 percent of obstetricians believed that counseling their patients about environmental toxins could reduce patients’ exposure to such substances, a full 50 percent of these doctors rarely took an environmental health history and less than one in five asked pregnant patients whether or not they had ever been exposed to the sorts of toxins that pregnant women in the U.S. typically come into contact with. Physicians said that a lack of knowledge about the issue and a desire not to panic their patients are the main reasons they tend not to counsel patients on the issue.
“U.S. obstetricians in our study recognized the potential impact of the environment on reproductive health, and the role that physicians could play in prevention, but reported numerous barriers to counseling patients,” wrote the study authors. “Medical education and training, evidence-based guidelines, and tools for communicating risks to patients are needed to support the clinical role in preventing environmental exposures that threaten patient health.”