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OBJECTIVE: To carry out a systematic review of the literature relating to economic aspects of alternative modes of delivery. METHODS: A comprehensive literature search of the years 1990-1999 was conducted of electronic and non-electronic sources using a tested search strategy. Papers considered to contain useful cost or resource use data were read in full and classified according to their relevance to the review and their methodological quality. Relevant cost and resource use data were converted to pound sterling and inflated to 1998-1999 price levels. RESULTS: The literature search resulted in 975 papers, 49 of which met criteria for the review. Thirty-two papers were from the USA where the organisation, structure and costs of health care are significantly different from that of other industrialised countries. The aggregate costs of different modes of delivery reported in these American studies were between four and five times higher than costs reported in other studies. The majority of included studies were of poor quality. Data from the better quality studies demonstrated that caesarean section costs a health service substantially more than other modes of delivery. The range of costs of an uncomplicated vaginal delivery were 629 pound sterling - 1,298 pound sterling compared with1,238 pound sterling - 3,551 pound sterling for a caesarean section. However, papers have so far only considered short term health service costs. CONCLUSIONS: Research is required to estimate the cost and resource use attributable to alternative modes of delivery. Future research should investigate the long term health service costs and the costs that arise outside the health service which are likely to vary according to mode of delivery.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





149 - 157


Cesarean Section, Delivery, Obstetric, Female, Health Care Costs, Humans, Length of Stay, Obstetric Labor Complications, Pregnancy