How digital health is helping pregnant mothers through the pandemic and beyond
When I was pregnant with my boys, there wasn’t as much access to information at our fingertips on pregnancy and baby health as there is online today. Indeed, my husband and I piled up on baby books, but we really relied on my obstetrician to guide us through the experience, with regular routine checkups, expert advice and a strong dose of reassurance along the way. My relationship with her was truly instrumental in both my health and the health of my babies.
So, when I think of the estimated 140 million women who gave birth in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m personally moved. Saddened thinking of the millions of moms who rely on public transport and were afraid – or not able – to attend checkups. And heartbroken to read of studies and birth data showing the startling increase in stillbirth rates – in part attributed to this lack of access to routine antenatal care.
We’ve posted in the past about how COVID has transformed care for acute and chronic conditions. However, I wanted to share the progress we’ve made in especially supporting expecting and young parents - and what the pandemic has taught us for the future.
In fact, our relationship with most parents begins long before they start looking for breast pumps or bottles – it starts with a heartbeat. From this first experience, all the way through pregnancy and birth we support mothers and their partners in improving pregnancy outcomes and their baby’s health: a responsibility we don’t take lightly.
Thus, when faced with the challenges of the pandemic, we banded together from Philips to support the millions of mothers, partners and babies we serve, helping increase access to care and information and promote their health and wellness remotely.
Four ways we are helping parents to navigate COVID
In 2020, our teams accelerated technology specifically designed to support mothers and their obstetricians during the pandemic with the COVID-19 Philips obstetrics platform, including the Avalon CL Fetal Maternal Pod and Patch and fetal monitor. The Avalon CL Fetal and Maternal Pod and Patch is a single-use, disposable patch placed on the mother’s abdomen to capture fetal and maternal vitals without the need for constant repositioning. The patch allows clinicians to monitor pregnant women at home, limiting the amount of physical interaction to potentially reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. With this new patch, clinicians can now monitor pregnant women at home, or from a distance in the hospital.
We also quickly activated our Pregnancy+ and Baby+ apps to share credible, relevant information for the 14 million parents and parents-to-be who used our platforms this year. This included in-app articles like “will COVID-19 affect my maternity care?” and healthy tips like “how to keep your breastfeeding equipment clean.” We even partnered with public healthcare, like the NHS, offering up in-app public service announcements for local users encouraging them not to miss their antenatal appointments and to stay connected with their midwife.
In different countries around the world, we partnered with local midwives, to host live, online sessions, answering questions around COVID-19, pregnancy and parenting for their patients.
And lastly, we solidified a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline [GSK], a British pharmaceutical company, to educate parents on the importance of baby vaccinations and immunization, using articles and videos in our Pregnancy+ and Baby+ apps. A vaccination hub was also created to help parents access comprehensive and reliable information about vaccine-preventable diseases.
We didn’t do it alone, but by partnering with clinicians, hospitals, experts and governments we together helped deliver care and comfort to mothers during this particularly stressful time.
Building our Next Normal for neonatal and maternal health
One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned from the pandemic is how shared our human experience truly is and how interdependent we are. Today there is an acute awareness of health and the desire to take personal ownership for your health and the health of those you live with. The pandemic has shown that there is such an incredible need for new models that improve population health through accessible, affordable technology.
With COVID-19 vaccinations starting in many countries this year to slow transmission, it doesn’t mean that we should go back to how things were. Indeed, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital healthcare – and now it’s our responsibility to even further improve on it.
Post-COVID, I expect to see an increased uptake of telehealth throughout the pregnancy journey. There’s tremendous opportunity to increase contact with the obstetrician/midwife – which can only lead to better pregnancy outcomes. However, this requires innovation across the entire maternal healthcare ecosystem. Indeed, remote monitoring and telehealth technology is already an immerging solution in many hospitals and clinics, but it needs to be adopted at scale to make a lasting impact. It also requires the payer networks to include telehealth in insurance coverage and increase the economic incentive with physicians for use. And lastly, it requires greater education across the board, for both healthcare professionals and patients, on the opportunities that virtual care offers and how to truly maximize the technology to its full potential.
While I know digital health is the future, it’s also important to underscore that digital health is not a replacement for every step of the healthcare process. In-person appointments are tremendously important during pregnancy, birth and beyond. However, telehealth and remote monitoring can play a crucial (and increasing) role in bettering patient experience, expanding access to care and improving health outcomes for the long term.
So, as we together build our Next Normal, let us all learn from our pandemic experiences in our collective mission to improve healthcare for everyone.
By Deeptha Khanna
Chief Business Leader Personal Health Phillips