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Obstetricians Claim Homebirth is Unsafe…Again. Where’s The Evidence?

November 29th, 2012 by avatar

by Wendy Gordon, LM, CPM, MPH, Midwives Alliance Division of Research

Today, midwife and researcher, Wendy Gordon, LM, CPM, MPH, Midwives Alliance Division of Research, takes a look at the recent article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that shared the authors’ view of the appropriate professional response from obstetricians when counseling and discussing home birth with patients.  Was this article based on good science?  Accurate and accepted studies? Did the authors selectively choose their sources and ignore other research that may have supported a different viewpoint?  Wendy shares information and research that invites consideration and discussion of the validity of the authors’ opinion. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager.

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Recently, an article in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology pled with obstetricians to not support planned home birth in any way, and even suggested that those who do “should be subject to peer review and justifiably incur professional liability and sanction from state medical boards” (1).  In their strongly worded opinion, the authors (the first two of whom are, curiously, members of the journal’s Advisory Board, and four of whom are also board members of the International Society of Fetus as a Patient) make their case that physicians should provide evidence-based information to women that planned home birth is not safe, that reports of patient satisfaction are overrated, that it’s actually not cost-effective, and that a pregnant woman has a moral duty to her fetus to give up her autonomy to her doctor’s judgment on this issue.  Let’s take a look at the basis for these recommendations.

Although there are many high-quality studies of home birth on which Chervenak et al. could have based their opinions, they led with the ACOG statement (2) that rests on the findings of the Wax et al. meta-analysis (3), which relied heavily on a study that included unplanned home births in its findings of neonatal mortality rates (4).  Many strong critiques of the Wax analysis have been published (5-11), including an unbiased look from someone who has no stake in the home birth debate.  The authors cited several more poor-quality studies, as well as 52 citations of commentaries, opinions and anecdotes (some even pulled from the popular media) to build their “evidence” basis. They conveniently ignored the large and growing body of literature that continues to show that planned home birth with qualified and experienced midwives holds no greater risk of perinatal mortality than birth in the hospital, and in fact results in far fewer interventions and lower risk of maternal and perinatal morbidity.

Here are some of the high-quality studies that Chervenak et al. did not cite in developing their opinion of the “professional responsibility response”:

  • two systematic reviews (12-13) and a meta-analysis (14) of home and birth center safety studies that all show that there is no greater perinatal risk for planned, attended home births than for hospital births, and significantly fewer interventions;
  • the only large-scale, high-quality study of Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) in the U.S. that described intrapartum and neonatal death rates as similar to other studies of low-risk home and hospital births (15);
  •  other high-quality U.S. studies that show no difference in perinatal mortality between planned home and hospital births (16-18);
  • several high-quality Canadian studies confirming no difference in the rates of perinatal death between planned home and hospital birth with much lower rates of both interventions and adverse outcomes (19-21);
  •  a huge Dutch study of over half a million births that shows no difference in perinatal mortality rates or NICU admissions between planned home and hospital births (22);
  • another Dutch study that shows no difference in perinatal mortality and lower risk of interventions and other adverse outcomes, particularly for multips (23);
  • large, high-quality U.K. studies that show no difference in perinatal mortality rates and lower risk of both interventions and adverse outcomes (24-25); and
  • a German study that shows no difference in rates of perinatal mortality and lower risk of interventions and adverse outcomes (26).

The authors then go on to discount the evidence of higher satisfaction among women choosing to deliver at home, as well as the cost-effectiveness of doing so, while presenting absolutely no evidence to the contrary.  The authors reference a study in the Netherlands where the transport rate from home to hospital is over twice that in the U.S. (and where Chervenak et al. took great liberties in interpreting the results on patient satisfaction) and a U.K. study where the costs of home and hospital birth are virtually equivalent.  While consistent, this approach to selectively reviewing the evidence and generalizing the findings to the U.S. maternity care system is disingenuous and deliberately misleading to American obstetricians and their patients.  A Washington State study of Medicaid patients planning a home birth with Licensed Midwives showed a savings of nearly $3 million, including the increased cost of those who transferred care and/or site of delivery (27).  This analysis did not attempt to account for the vast cost reductions of potentially avoided interventions, including cesareans and their complications, which would make the case for the cost-effectiveness of midwifery-led care in Washington State even stronger.  It is puzzling that Chervenak et al. did not cite this study, which is recent, took place in the U.S., was conducted by unbiased health-economics consultants, and directly addresses one of their four concerns.

The authors’ main argument against the proven cost-effectiveness of planned home birth is that “the lifetime costs of supporting the neurologically disabled children who will result from planned home birth” have not been factored in, nor have the supposedly increased rates of death.  If one accepts the conclusions of the enormous body of literature that finds no difference in perinatal mortality rates or other adverse outcomes between planned, midwife-attended home births and hospital births, then the pursuit of this line of reasoning is a non-starter.

The U.S. continues to lag behind many other high- and low-resource countries in accepting the evidence of the vast benefits of midwifery care.  The U.K.’s National Health Service has encouraged women to plan home births with midwives for several years; the Netherlands has always acknowledged midwives as the primary care provider in the childbearing year; New Zealand’s system similarly places midwives at the forefront of maternity and newborn care; Japan has a long tradition of midwifery-led care.  Most recently, British Columbia Health Minister MacDiarmid, accepting the evidence of safety, patient satisfaction and cost-effectiveness, has announced government support for women with low-risk pregnancies to plan a home birth, including support for physicians to become appropriately trained to attend home births (28).  But the medical associations of the U.S. continue to erect barriers to the type of interprofessional collaboration that has resulted in the excellent outcomes of these other countries.  The Chervenak et al. article is clearly intended to be yet another of those barriers.

In the centerpiece of the AJOG article, Chervenak cites himself an astounding 15 times in justifying why the rights of a pregnant woman to make autonomous decisions for herself and her baby should be relegated to her doctor’s judgment of what’s right for the “fetus as a patient,” grounded firmly, of course, in the aforementioned “evidence.”  In an astonishing disregard for shared decision-making and informed choice, Chervenak et al. state that “in a professional relationship, the physician’s integrity justifiably limits the woman’s rights by limiting the scope of clinically reasonable alternatives.”  The authors’ repeated and unusual use of the word “recrudescence” when referring to home birth, which reveals their perception of the choice as a disease or disorder, and their stubborn contempt for high-quality evidence if it disproves their opinion, exposes their intent and certainly calls into question their “integrity.”

“Professional responsibility” demands that we dare to examine the evidence that does not agree with our personal beliefs.  It requires that we allow the volumes of high-quality evidence to seep into our analysis of reality and into our presentation of true informed choice to our patients.  “Professional responsibility” demands that we examine and disclose our own personal, religious or anecdotal beliefs that may bias our interpretation and presentation of the research.  And it requires that we refuse to cloak those personal beliefs as “evidence” and “integrity” and by so doing avoid an abuse of power in relationship with our patients.

References

1. Chervenak F. A., McCullough L. B., Brent R. L., Levene M. I., & Arabin B. (2012) Planned home birth: the professional responsibility response. Am J Obstet Gynecol, Nov 13. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2012.10.002. [Epub ahead of print].

2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). Committee Opinion no. 476. Committee on Obstetric Practice. Planned home birth. Obstet Gynecol, 117(2, part 1), 425-8.

3. Wax J. R., Lucas F. L., Lamont M., Pinette M. G., Cartin A., & Blackstone J. (2010).  Maternal and newborn outcomes in planned home birth vs. planned hospital births: a metaanalysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 203(3):243.e1–243.e8. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2010.05.028

4. Pang J. W., Heffelfinger J. D., Huang G. J., Benedetti T. J., & Weiss N. S. (2002). Outcomes of planned home births in Washington state: 1989-1996. Obstet Gynecol, 100(2):253-9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0029-7844(02)02074-4

5. Carl M. A., Janssen P. A., Vedam S., Hutton E. K., & de Jonge A. (2011). Planned home vs hospital birth: A meta-analysis gone wrong. Medscape Ob/Gyn & Wom Health. Retrieved from http://www2.cfpc.ca/local/user/files/%7B1E683014-14EB-489F-99CE-B5A2185A6FC5%7D/Medscape%20%20Wax%20Critique%20-%20Michal,%20Janssen,%20Vedam,%20Hutton,%20de%20Jonge.pdf

6. Gyte G., Newburn M., & Macfarlane A. (2010). Critique of a meta-analysis by Wax and colleagues which has claimed that there is a three-times greater risk of neonatal death among babies without congenital anomalies planned to be born at home. National Childbirth Trust. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/34065092/Critique-of-a-metaanalysis-by-Wax

7. Keirse M. J. (2010). Home birth: Gone away, gone astray, and here to stay. Birth, 37(4):341-46.

8. Hayden E. C. (2011). Home birth study investigated. Nature [Epub]. doi:10.1038/news.2011.162.

9. American College of Nurse Midwives. (2010). ACNM expresses concerns regarding recent AJOG publication on home birth. [Epub]. Retrieved from http://www.midwife.org/documents/ACNMstatementonAJOG2010.pdf.

10. Romano A. (2010). Meta-analysis: the wrong tool (wielded improperly). Retrieved from http://www.scienceandsensibility.org/?p=1349.

11. Dekker R. & Lee K. S. (2012). The Wax home birth meta-analysis: an outsider’s critique. Retrieved from http://www.scienceandsensibility.org/?p=5628.

12. Olsen O. & Clausen J. A. (2012). Planned hospital birth versus planned home birth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD000352. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000352.pub2.

13. Leslie M. S. & Romano A. (2007). Appendix: Birth can safely take place at home and in birthing centers. J Perinat Educ, 16(Suppl 1):81S-88S. doi:10.1624/105812407X173236

14. Olsen O. (1997). Meta-analysis of the safety of home birth. Birth, 24(1):4-13; discussion 14-6.

15. Johnson K. C. & Daviss B-A. (2005). Outcomes of planned home births with certified professional midwives: large prospective study in North America. BMJ, 330:1416. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7505.1416

16. Cawthon L. (1996). Planned home births: outcomes among Medicaid women in Washington State. Olympia,WA: Washington Department of Social and Health Services. Retrieved from http://www.dshs.wa.gov/pdf/ms/rda/research/7/93.pdf.

17. Murphy P. A. & Fullerton J. (1998). Outcomes of intended home births in nurse-midwifery practice: a prospective descriptive study. Obstet Gynecol, 92(3):461-70.

18. Anderson R. E. & Murphy P.A. (1995). Outcomes of 11,788 planned home births attended by certified nurse-midwives: A retrospective descriptive study. J Nurse Midwifery, 40(6):483-92.

19. Janssen P. A., Saxell L., Page L. A., Klein M. C., Liston R. M. & Lee S.K. (2009). Outcomes of planned home births with registered midwife versus planned hospital birth with midwife or physician. CMAJ, 181(6):377-83.

20. Hutton E. K., Reitsma A.H. & Kaufman K. (2009). Outcomes associated with planned home and planned hospital births in low-risk women attended by midwives in Ontario, Canada, 2003-2006: A retrospective cohort study. Birth, 36(3):180-89.

21. Janssen P. A., Lee S. K., Ryan E. M., Etches D. J., Farquharson D. F., Peacock D. & Klein M. C. (2002). Outcomes of planned home births versus planned hospital births after regulation of midwifery in British Columbia. CMAJ, 166(3):315-23.

22. de Jonge A., van der Goes B. Y., Ravelli A. C., Amelink-Verburg M. P., Mol B. W., Nijhuis J. G., Bennebroek Gravenhorst J. & Buitendijk S. E. (2009). Perinatal mortality and morbidity in a nationwide cohort of 529,688 low-risk planned home and hospital births. BJOG, 116(9):1177-84. DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2009.02175.x.

23. Wiegers T. A., Keirse M. J., van der Zee J. & Berghs G. A. (1996). Outcome of planned home and planned hospital births in low risk pregnancies: prospective study in midwifery practices in the Netherlands. BMJ, 313(7068):1309-13

24. Chamberlain G., Wraight A. & Crowley P. (eds.). (1997). Home births – The report of the 1994 confidential enquiry by the National Birthday Trust Fund. Cranforth, UK: Parthenon Publishing.

25. Northern Region Perinatal Mortality Survey Coordinating Group. (1996). Collaborative survey of perinatal loss in planned and unplanned home births. BMJ, 313(7068):1306-09. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7068.1306.

26. Ackermann-Liebrich U., Voegeli T., Gunter-Witt K., Kunz I., Zullig M., Schindler C., Maurer M. & Zurich Study Team. (1996). Home versus hospital deliveries: follow up study of matched pairs for procedures and outcome. BMJ, 313(7068):1313-18. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7068.1313.

27. Health Management Associates. (2007). Midwifery licensure and discipline program in Washington State: economic costs and benefits. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonmidwives.org/documents/Midwifery_Cost_Study_10-31-07.pdf.

28. Dedyna K. (2012, Nov 3). B.C. minister among first to support home births. Times Colonist. Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/minister+among+first+support+home+births/7494815/story.html.

About Wendy Gordon

Wendy Gordon, LM, CPM, MPH is a midwife, mother and educator in the Seattle area.  She helped to build a busy, blended homebirth practice of nurse-midwives and direct-entry midwives in Portland, Oregon for eight years before recently transitioning to Seattle.  She is a Coordinating Council member of the Midwives Alliance Division of Research, a board member of the Association of Midwifery Educators, and teaches at the Bastyr University Department of Midwifery.

 

Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternal Mortality, Maternal Mortality Rate, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Midwifery, New Research, Research , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Wax Home Birth Meta-Analysis: An Outsider’s Critique

October 23rd, 2012 by avatar

Today’s post is a fascinating interview that took place between Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN of Evidence Based Birth and Kyoung Suk Lee, PhD, MPH, RN, APRN. Rebecca asked Dr. Lee to provide a review of the Wax Home Birth Meta-Analysis, as an “unbiased outsider”, but highly skilled researcher.  Dr. Lee’s comments and critique are fascinating and provided me with many further thoughts.  Please enjoy Rebecca’s interview and share your comments. – SM

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeliam/7353095052/

Shortly after starting my website, www.evidencebasedbirth.com, I had several people ask me if I could write an article about the research evidence on home birth. However, I was hesitant to do so for several reasons. Mainly, I was worried that I could not look at the evidence in an objective manner. My husband and I had recently chosen a home birth for our second child. I was worried that it would be difficult to objectively examine the research evidence on home birth, given my personal experience. The blogosphere is full of people who are strongly pro-home birth or anti-home birth, and their evaluations of the evidence are usually written through the lens of their own biases. I didn’t want to add to the plethora of biased articles already out there.

Then I had a sudden burst of inspiration. What if I asked one of my colleagues—who has no biases about childbirth—to review the home birth literature for me? In particular, I wanted to find someone who could review the Wax home birth meta-analysis (Wax, Lucas et al. 2010) and give me a fair assessment of its scientific value.

I chose the Wax meta-analysis for this review because in 2011, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists emphasized the results of the Wax study in its official statement on home birth. Their statement said: “Women inquiring about planned home birth should be informed of its risks and benefits based on recent evidence. Specifically, they should be informed that although the absolute risk may be low, planned home birth is associated with a twofold to threefold increased risk of neonatal death when compared with planned hospital birth.”(ACOG, 2011)

Dr. Kyoung Suk Lee, PhD, MPH, RN, APRN

It did not take me long to figure out who I would ask to review the Wax study. Dr. Kyoung Suk Lee is considered by her colleagues to be a rising star in the field of cardiovascular research. She recently graduated with a PhD in Nursing, and she just accepted a job at a research university. People who work with Dr. Lee say that she is extremely intelligent, hard-working, and a future leader in her field. Dr. Lee’s expertise has been recognized with research awards from the Heart Failure Society of America, the Society for Heart-Brain Medicine, and the Cleveland Clinic Heart-Brain Institute, among others. She has published her work in nursing and cardiology journals. Furthermore, I knew that Dr. Lee did not have any biases about childbirth, home birth, or hospital birth. I asked Dr. Lee if she would be willing to review the Wax meta-analysis for me, and she kindly agreed.

What follows is my interview of her about the study and its results (RD in bold, KSL unbolded).

Do you have any biases or conflicts of interest related to home or hospital birth?

I do not have any biases related to home or hospital birth.

Could you summarize the methods and results of the Wax study?

The purpose of this meta-analysis was to compare maternal and neonatal outcomes between planned home-and hospital-births.

Using an electronic database search and bibliography search, the authors retrieved 237 articles and included 12 articles in their meta-analyses. Of 12 articles included, 3 were conducted after 2000 while 9 were conducted before 2000. Of 12 articles, 2 were conducted in the US (one was a retrospective design) while 10 were conducted outside US.

Women in the planned home birth group had better maternal outcomes than women in the planned hospital group. They had fewer interventions such as epidurals and episiotomies, and lower morbidity (infection, 3rd or 4th degree lacerations, hemorrhages, and retained placenta). There were no differences in cord prolapse between the two groups.

For neonatal outcomes, babies born to women in the planned home birth group were less likely to experience prematurity and low birth weight. However, babies born to women in the planned home birth group were more likely to experience neonatal death compared to women in hospital birth.

What is the difference between neonatal and perinatal mortality? What does this have to do with the results?

Based on the definitions given by the authors, neonatal mortality was defined as “death of live born child within 28 days of birth.” This is a subset of an overall outcome– perinatal mortality, which was defined as “stillbirth (of at least 20 weeks or 500g) or death of live born child within 28 days of birth.”

According to the authors, there were no differences in perinatal death (the overall outcome) between planned home birth and hospital birth groups. However, homebirth was associated with 2 times higher risk for neonatal death (the subset of deaths occurring 28 days after birth) in all infants and 3 times higher risk for neonatal death in infants who did not have any congenital birth defects.

Interestingly, if you look at page 243.e3, the authors did a sensitivity analysis. In this analysis, they excluded the studies that had home births that were not attended by certified midwives or certified nurse midwives. In this analysis, they found that there were no differences in neonatal deaths between the home birth and hospital birth groups. This means that in the studies in which midwives with certification of some kind attended home births, the outcomes were the same except there was no increase in the neonatal death rate. In my opinion, we have to pay attention to results of sensitivity analyses because this allows us to see the results based on studies which were definitely known to be eligible or clearly described their methods and outcomes.

What is your opinion on the scientific rigor of this meta-analysis?

One thing that was strange to me is the odds ratios (ORs) in the tables. For example, in table 2, under morbidity, the percentages of infection between home births and hospital births were 0.7 vs. 2.6 (its OR was 0.27) while percentages of perineal laceration were 42.7 vs. 37.1 (its OR was 0.66). To a researcher, these numbers don’t make sense.

Many of the studies included were older (half of the studies were conducted more than 20 years ago) so results may not reflect the current practice at home births or hospital births.

The authors did not provide detailed information on how they evaluated the quality of studies included, although they cited a paper describing the method of study evaluation. This makes it difficult if not impossible to determine whether the studies they included were of good or poor quality.

The authors mentioned that women with high risks would prefer hospital births so that it would expect that home births have better outcomes than hospital births in some maternal and neonatal outcomes. If this was a concern, I wonder why the authors didn’t just focus on only the studies that used matching methods, in order to minimize confounding factors.

What is the difference between relative risk and absolute risk, and how does that apply to women who want to have a home birth?

Absolute risk is the probability of something occurring. They may be expressed as percentages or ratios. For example, neonatal mortality rate in the United States is 2.01 per 1,000 live births. This is .201 percent (2.01/1000 = .201/100).

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeporcenaluk/3789756395/

Relative risk is a comparison between different risk levels, such as the neonatal mortality rate of home birth compared to the neonatal mortality rate of hospital birth. The researchers found that there was a higher relative risk in neonatal mortality at home births compared to hospital births, but the overall absolute risk for both was small.

How can women know whether the Wax study results would be applicable to their own individual situation?

Meta analysis is one way to generalize findings from different studies. However, women and clinicians should interpret these results cautiously because the studies included were very different from one another and some of the studies included may not have been of good quality. Also, it would be important to note that the overall neonatal death rate that they report reflects home births that were attended by midwives as well as those that may not have had any kind of certified midwife present.

Because this study seems to have some flaws, the conclusion is tentative. I do not know if this article has any implications for pregnant women.

What do you think is the value of asking someone with no conflicts of interest to evaluate controversial research? Does Dr. Lee’s even-handed critique make you view the results of this study any differently? How do you feel about Dr Lee’s conclusion that the study’s results are tentative, and that the Wax study might not have any implications for pregnant women? Please share your thoughts and comments with other readers.

References

(2011). “ACOG Committee Opinion No. 476: Planned home birth.” Obstetrics and gynecology 117(2 Pt 1): 425-428.

Wax, J. R., F. L. Lucas, et al. (2010). “Maternal and newborn outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births: a metaanalysis.” Am J Obstet Gynecol 203(3): 243 e241-248.

About Rebecca Dekker

Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, is an Assistant Professor of Nursing at a research-intensive university and author of www.evidencebasedbirth.com. Rebecca’s vision is to promote evidence-based birth practices among consumers and clinicians worldwide. She publishes summaries of birth evidence using a Question and Answer style.

Babies, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Home Birth, Metaanalyses, Midwifery, New Research, NICU, Research , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Meeting of the Minds: Planned Homebirth Consensus Summit

October 21st, 2011 by avatar

UPDATE:  The homebirth summit is underway, as we speak.  With numerous stake holders at the table together in Warrenton, VA , including OBs & FPs, midwives, nurses, insurers, childbirth educators, administrators, doulas, public health professionals, legislatures, and researchers…there is certainly hard work afoot as the hand-selected meeting attendees work to hammer out consensus on the role homebirth does (and should) play in our country, how best to implement inter-discipline collaboration, as well as ensuring situations like seamless (and respectful) transfers from home to hospital when the need arises.  With several Lamaze International members attending the conference, I hope to bring you some commentary on the summit in the weeks to come. -KMH]

 

This coming October, midwives, doctors, childbirth educators, hospital administrators, health policy regulators, and public health professionals will get together with key representatives from organizations such as ACNM, MANA, ACOG, AAP,  NACPM, ICTC, Lamaze, AABC,  Our Bodies Ourselves, and AWHONN.  This collective group–all stakeholders in the planned home birth debate–will descend upon a yet-to-be-decided venue to discuss the various sides of the issue, and seek common ground that will, ultimately, benefit mothers opting for planned home birth and their babies.

Says Judith Lothian, RN, PhD, LCCE, FACCE, Associate Professor of Nursing at Seton Hall University, Associate Editor of the Journal of Perinatal Education, and Lamaze International’s representative to the planned home birth consensus committee:

 

The planning for the home birth consensus meeting began several years ago. I was fortunate to be part of “making history” at the first planning meeting in San Francisco in 2009. For the first time, obstetricians, pediatricians, midwives (including certified professional midwives), childbirth educators, maternity nurses, and birth advocates guided by the courageous vision and commitment of Saras Vedam, sat at the same table and talked (and listened). It was amazing. We left that meeting excited and hopeful. In the last few months, with some funding, the planning for the consensus meeting is finally moving forward. The consensus meeting planned for October 2011 will be the first time that all those with a stake in the planned home birth issue will talk, listen, reflect and, hopefully, find areas of agreement that will ultimately make a difference for mothers and babies. It is so important that Lamaze, representing childbearing women, childbirth educators, and birth advocates, is at the table. This will be a historic and hopefully “birth altering” event.

 

 

To find out more about the Home Birth Summit, go here.

 


Posted by:  Kimmelin Hull, PA, LCCE

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