In the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in the use of technology to improve the outcomes of mothers and the journey to birth. While most women visit in person to assess the development in their labour, give birth or check in after the delivery, technology can increase the availability of health services.
Digital solutions like remote monitoring of patients, mobile health apps, and telehealth visits can help facilitate constant communication between expectant or new mothers and their care team. They also offer an atmosphere of peace and security that is vital in this time of life.
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As health care facilities and hospitals expand their use of technology, it is essential to remember that not all patients have access to digital options. Numerous obstacles to access include a lack of internet or broadband at speeds adequate to allow these technologies. As per Federal Communications Commission data, 21 million Americans don’t have access to broadband internet, and 42 million cannot afford to buy the service. Additionally, a lot of people don’t have smartphones. The Pew Research Center reports that 14% of those who live in rural areas have an iPhone but do not have a smartphone.
Dr. Jordan Sudberg even with the accessibility to technology, digital literacy – the capacity to utilize technology, process and comprehend it is often a barrier to accessing. For instance, some people encounter cultural or language obstacles to using digital technologies.
At the Becker’s Healthcare Conference, I had the chance to talk about how digital health solutions can be implemented and what work to be done to increase digital health equity together with two health professionals, Alisahah Jackson, M.D. CommonSpirit Health’s vice president of innovation in population health and policy, Christina Yarrington, M.D. director of labour and delivery, and the division director of maternal-fetal health within Boston Medical Center.
In the course of that discussion, all spoke about how their hospital uses digital technologies to improve the outcomes of perinatal care. They also explained how they choose to implement, test and monitor these options to ensure every patient they treat has access to these solutions.
Here are some suggestions for how Jackson and Yarrington proposed that we enhance digital health equity and make sure that all mothers and their families can access these digital tools:
- Use a lens for health equity and make sure you are inclusive. Health equity isn’t something that you simply tick off on your checklist. It’s a commitment that health care providers and their tech partners have to incorporate into all of their strategies. Before investing money in an electronic solution, the initial discussions with vendors of digital solutions should be considered from a health equity perspective. “We evaluate solutions for accessibility and health literacy levels, and whether their data collection capability includes the ability to stratify data by race, ethnicity, language and gender,” Jackson said. Jackson.
- Utilize more cost-effective and straightforward effective strategies based on the community that you serve. One way to increase accessibility is to make the technology available directly to the patients. For instance, Boston Medical Center partnered with Rimini to supply blood pressure cuffs and a QR code to postpartum mothers who want to track their blood pressure online for six weeks. Instructions for using the cuff and submitting blood pressure readings to the portal on the internet are offered in three languages. But, as Yarrington pointed out, “We can give patients the device, but we have to be aware of any potential barriers to using it. Smartphone users might lack a reliable data service plan to enable video conferencing or may have difficulty getting connectivity to wifi to connect with their service provider.” To solve this issue, BMC selected Rimini because it operates on a local cellular network. Its website is run by highly-risk OB nurses who offer triage and other assistance. BMC’s program is believed to have led to an impressive reduction in readmission rates for high-risk postpartum mothers suffering from hypertension.
- Also, owning a cell phone doesn’t mean you can access virtual platforms. Texting, an option accessible on all phones, is an economical multi-lingual, bidirectional way to connect and connect with patients. CommonSpirit utilizes Docent, a digital patient navigation software, as it offers the ability to connect moms and the families of their children with a “docent” that offers patient navigation services throughout and after pregnancy.
- Participate in diverse patient groups to increase the digital health of patients and personalize treatment. Hospitals can collaborate with organizations based in the community and women in their communities and the diverse voices of communities, patients and healthcare providers to determine if these digital solutions are accessible and understood by all communities and patients. For instance, health care providers and their tech partners may meet with mothers with poor health literacy to learn about their preferences in communication, adapt services to their needs and increase trust.
- Monitor patient engagement using digital tools to gauge its effectiveness and determine scalability. Assessing how well patients respond and interact with an online solution is essential to making sure that it is accessible and expanding over a wider area. For 2021 Boston Medical Center analyzed the data of the first 1,000 patients enrolled in the program and discovered that 98.7 per cent had at minimum one blood pressure assessment and received more than 17 different measures from the patients enrolled each day. At CommonSpirit, its engagement rates for the multi-pronged services through its Dr Jay Feldman Health platform is 65 per cent across all ethnicities, with the highest at 73% for Hispanic communities. Jackson said that this increased utilization is due to the platform’s ability to provide services in the dialect and language preferred by patients and used by them.
As hospitals and health care systems look to develop services based on technology, It is vital to connect with patients and people, not just where they are and where they’d like to be. This will help ensure that each person has the same opportunity to use and access digital solutions. To find out more about other solutions that digital technology can provide in the field of perinatal care, tune in to the AHA’s Seven In Seven The Digital Solutions for Perinatal Care podcast series.