Telemedicine has been used by some medical centers to implement a range of obstetrical services to replace in-person visits, implementing home monitoring, and providing consultation with remote specialists.
Fremont, CA: A recent study revealed that rural residents have a higher possibility of severe maternal morbidity than their urban counterparts due to workforce shortages, transportation barriers, the opioid epidemic, and limited access to specialty care. Telemedicine or telehealth is one proposed method to address these disparities. This is broadly defined as the provision of healthcare services by the healthcare professionals, using technology to exchange data in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease.
A wide range of pregnancy-related services can be provided through telemedicine. It can be used for unique approaches such as postpartum care, at-home monitoring for conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, and video consultation with the specialists.
Prenatal Care: Reducing the Need to Travel
Traditional prenatal care models say more than 14 in-person visits is necessary throughout the pregnancy. This needs significant travel time and time away from work or family responsibilities. But only a few prenatal visits truly need in-person care, such as those for ultrasounds, vaccinations, and lab testing. Many visits educate the patient, answer questions, and monitor maternal and fetal vitals, measurements, which could be taken at home if given the supplies. Researchers suggest that fewer prenatal visits are safer for low-risk pregnancies. In response to this issue, some medical centers have begun to use telemedicine “virtual visits” through videoconference or phone to replace a few in-person visits. These programs enable patients to maintain the continuity of care with their OB providers while taking part in their care from home or a convenient location. This can accurately help patients who have to travel long distances or have difficulty taking time off from work or family responsibilities.
High-risk pregnancies can benefit from telemedicine, primarily through at-home monitoring for high blood pressure and diabetes, which is then sent to their providers.
Postpartum care is vital for addressing the physical well-being of the patient after the delivery and their emotional and social well-being, breastfeeding concerns, contraceptive needs, birth spacing, and any other ongoing chronic disease management. However, the postpartum period is generally overlooked. Traditionally, patients wait six weeks before their postpartum visit, even though problems may arise before then. Telemedicine in postpartum care could help address this, through the use of app-based support, better phone or text communication with the providers, and at-home blood pressure monitoring.