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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth


Background: Congenital syphilis (CS) has reemerged as a global maternal and child health crisis. Kern County, California and East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana are among the highest CS morbidity regions in the United States. We previously reported on social-ecological and structural barriers to prenatal care and maternal syphilis testing and treatment in these two regions. The aim of this study was to examine perinatal patient’s health preferences and perceptions of patient-provider relationships in the prenatal care clinic setting. Methods: Between May 2018 and January 2019 we conducted 20 in-depth qualitative interviews with prenatal providers and 8 focus group discussions with pregnant and postpartum individuals in Kern County and East Baton Rouge Parish. We applied an adapted health services framework to analyze participants’ understanding of health disparities and vulnerable populations; perinatal patient’s health and prenatal care preferences; and participants’ perspectives of clinical encounters in the context of prenatal care and maternal syphilis testing and treatment. Results: Site-specific determinants of syphilis infection emerged but participants from both locations felt CS prevention efforts should be prioritized among youth, racial/ethnic minority populations, people experiencing socioeconomic limitations and people with other commonly occurring health conditions. Although perinatal patients expressed clear health preferences, they reported inconsistent receipt of respectful, patient-centered care. Inconsistencies were connected with limited ethnic and cultural competence among providers, and implicit, negative attitudes toward patients using substances, experiencing homelessness, or engaging in sex work. Providers clearly aimed to offer high quality prenatal care. However, some clinic and health systems level factors were thought to reduce positive and communicative patient-provider relationships, contributing to gaps in use of prenatal care and syphilis testing and treatment. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that interventions tailored to address setting-specific determinants (including clinic and health system factors) of disparities in CS risk could improve pregnant people’s access to prenatal care and ensure they and their sex partners receive timely syphilis screening and treatment. We recommend all prenatal care providers receive training on how to identify and mitigate implicit biases and provide competent and compassionate patient-centered care.

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