Background Maternal deaths in Tanzania and other low and middle income countries occur both in and outside health facilities. Review of maternal deaths relies on comprehensive documentation of medical records that can reveal sequence of events leading to death. The World Health Organization’s and the Tanzanian Maternal Death and Surveillance (MDSR) system propose the use of narrative summaries during maternal death reviews for discussing the case to categorize causes of death, identify gaps in care and recommend action plans to prevent deaths. Suggested action plans are recommended to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound (SMART). To identify gaps in documenting information and developing recommendations, comprehensiveness of written narrative summaries and action plans were assessed.
Methods A total of 76 facility maternal deaths that occurred in two regions in Southern Tanzania in 2018 were included for analysis. We assessed the comprehensiveness of summaries and action plans using a prepared checklist from Tanzania MDSR guideline of 2015. Presence or absence of items in four domains each with several attributes was recorded. These were socio-demographic characteristics, antenatal care, referral information and events that occurred after admission. Less than 75% completeness of attributes in all domains was considered poor while 95% and above was good/comprehensive. Action plans were assessed by application of SMART criteria and according to place of planned implementation (community, facility or higher level of health system).
Results Almost half of narrative summaries (49%) scored poor, and only 1% scored good/comprehensive. Summaries missed key information such as demographic characteristics, time between diagnosis of complication and commencing treatment (65%), investigation results (47%), summary of case evolution (51%) and referral information (47%). A total of 285 action points were analysed. Most action points 242(85%) recommended strategies to be implemented at health facilities and they were mostly 42(42%) on service delivery. Only 42% (32/76) of the action points were deemed to be SMART.
Conclusions Abstraction of information to prepare narrative summaries used in MDSR system is inadequately done. Action plans in MDSR system are mostly recommended to sub standard care in health facilities but are not specific on the issues to be addressed.