Maternal-fetal telemedicine programs offer innovative services to women facing high-risk pregnancies. High-risk pregnancies often involve health issues such as hypertension, gestational diabetes, autoimmune disorders, anemia and cancer, and/or lifestyle factors like advanced age and lower socioeconomic status, all of which can increase the rates of infant mortality, maternal mortality and preterm births. Telemedicine services decrease these risks and make prenatal and perinatal care more equitable.
For numerous women dealing with high-risk pregnancies, the lack of specialized services is an impediment to proper fetal care and risk prevention. Women residing in rural or traditionally underprivileged areas often may not have access to obstetric specialists or in some cases, any obstetricians at all. Women in traditionally underprivileged areas face under-funding, poor support networks and a lack of information on pregnancy maintenance. Faced with long journeys to doctors’ offices, women often miss appointments because of a variety of life circumstances. Lack of transportation and inadequate childcare are common factors that impede their ability to show up for their appointments in-person. According to high-risk pregnancy specialist Dr Gilbert Webb, telemedicine technology is allowing specialists to provide quality care to patients in other locations. Many telemedicine providers now offer a variety of remote services that provide the appropriate obstetrics care for women in need.
Women who are unable to see specialists can benefit from remote consultations and advising. Remote video-conferencing services supplement traditional appointments and facilitate the women’s usual providers. Women can receive services from their nurse practitioners or physicians with guidance from the specialists, and providers can seamlessly exchange patients’ records. With the use of telesonography, sonographers work in concert with these specialists and provide ultrasound images. In some cases, sonographers perform level II ultrasounds that are projected back to the specialists in real-time. Other services like glucose and echocardiogram monitoring are also available.
Telemedicine allows patients to form direct relationships with specialists and receive more guidance. Women can personally consult with genetic counselors after receiving genetic test results. Remote appointments also alleviate the costs associated with in-person appointments and unnecessary follow-ups by limiting transportation and childcare expenses for many low-income women. These benefits prompt more women to attend their appointments and prevent risks.
A telehealth program in Lynn, Mass. has shown that women who receive frequent updates report more satisfaction, and counseling offers an outlet for those without strong support systems. Some of these services are as simple as phone reminders to attend appointments, check up on issues and report back to providers with symptoms. Many of these programs disperse educational materials to help women living in locations with poor medical support. Educating women on healthy behaviors and self-examinations decreases possible complications.
Success Rates and Successful Services
The American Telemedicine Association reports two successful programs that use telemedicine technology. The Antenatal and Neonatal Guidelines, Education, and Learning System has been shown to reduce infant mortality rates, and the Virginia High-Risk Obstetrics Telehealth Program decreased the frequency of missed appointments and premature births by 25 percent. Telemedicine services have also been proven to lower infant mortality rates and the number of low birth weights in hospitals that lack Neonatal Intensive Care Units. There has also been a decrease in the number of infants transferred to other hospitals by allowing remote specialists to service providers at the local hospitals.
Most of these programs reach out to women with counseling services or 24/7 guidance lines. For example, one of Georgia’s pilot telehealth programs has helped to reduce infant mortality rates by allowing specialists to consult with women and advise them on necessary interventions during emergencies.
With the increasing sophistication and reliability of technology, telemedicine is a promising opportunity for women who face high-risk pregnancies and offers many benefits to reduce high-risk pregnancy complications.