Online antenatal care programs provide convenient access to pregnancy-related information and remote clinic consultations, helping pregnant women ease stress levels while receiving accurate information. These programs can offer pregnant women access to reliable guidance as they plan their pregnancies.

Research indicates that consumers have different information requirements at various pregnancy stages; hence, online technology interventions must be tailored and stage-specific to provide optimal support to them.

1. Convenience

Pregnancy is a unique health condition, creating physiological, emotional and informational needs for consumers. Previous research indicates that pregnant consumers frequently search online communities for pregnancy-related information that is neither well organized or customized to their situation.

Online pregnancy care could offer a solution by providing stage-specific support and tailored advice, for instance via smartphone apps that feature kick counters, contraction timers and personal journals to track fetus development – providing essential insight into what care may be necessary.

Technology could also connect mothers-to-be to specialists like maternal-fetal medicine doctors (MFMs), mental health providers, and lactation consultants. Telemedicine has proven itself effective at increasing access and addressing disparities in medical service delivery for rural areas – however its implementation remains challenging as only 19 states mandate private insurance plans covering pregnancy-related telemedicine visits while most Medicaid programs do not mention pregnancy-related telemedicine in their reimbursement laws and policies, thus restricting its availability for low-income women.

Ideal smartphone applications should synchronize data with a central server, enabling pregnant women and healthcare providers to access information at both high- and low-resource settings. This would ensure that pregnant women have all of the information they require at their fingertips while being connected with healthcare providers whenever needed.

2. Accessibility

Although there are numerous pregnancy-related apps on the market, women have expressed a strong preference for mobile health apps that provide in-depth health information. Women also indicated they’d like the ability to record their experiences related to pregnancy, connect with nurses and healthcare providers as well as receive notifications about danger signs.

With the widespread adoption of mobile devices, mHealth apps for pregnancy could address women’s needs more efficiently and provide improved access to prenatal care. Telemedicine offers women an alternative to in-person visits by allowing patients and local prenatal care providers to videoconference with experts such as maternal-fetal medicine doctors (MFMs) or lactation consultants; other services may connect pregnant women to genetic counselors, fetal cardiologists, diabetes educators or diabetes educators.

Telemedicine holds immense promise to improve maternal and infant outcomes by eliminating geographic disparities in prenatal care. Implementing this technology, however, will require considerable planning time and start-up costs, reliable broadband connections both at provider sites and patient homes, HIPPA compliance compliance as well as integration into an electronic health record system.

As most maternity services are covered under Medicaid programs, expanding telemedicine into obstetrics may depend on developing models to finance the use of mobile health technologies and investments in broadband infrastructure; additionally, research that shows improved pregnancies could also play an integral part of this expansion effort.

3. Personalized Care

Pregnancy creates unique health-related needs for consumers, yet information available online may be misleading or inadequate. A content analysis of pregnancy-related questions posted to online health forums shows that consumers’ information needs can vary by stage and type of question; as a result, tailored support must be tailored specifically for each consumer throughout their gestation journey. With this knowledge in hand, technology-based interventions designed to meet these requirements may provide invaluable support throughout.

Only a select few medical centers have used telemedicine for obstetric care thus far, offering programs with devices such as scales, blood pressure cuffs and fetal doppler monitors sent directly to home for monitoring as well as consultation services with specialists such as maternal-fetal medicine doctors via videoconference. Telemedicine also helps connect pregnant patients to mental healthcare providers and genetic counselors.

High costs associated with at-home monitoring equipment, along with reliable broadband Internet connections at both home and the physician’s office for videoconferencing, present significant barriers to implementation in low-income populations. Furthermore, requiring access to a computer or smartphone with Internet capabilities for data logging may prove challenging for pregnant women who do not own such devices.

University of Michigan Health Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital has created an innovative group prenatal care model through YoMingo that empowers expectant moms-to-be by equipping them with knowledge and resources they need to take an active role in their own healthcare. YoMingo also provides anytime/anywhere prenatal and childbirth education as well as fun extras to guide women through their journey.

4. Social Support

Women find comfort and reassurance in communicating with other pregnant women and people who are going through similar experiences, helping reduce stress and anxiety as well as provide emotional support and reassurance. Unfortunately, lack of social support may contribute to mental health issues during gestation.

Online resources provide a unique form of social support and information throughout pregnancy stages, and help provide much-needed answers. To inform design opportunities for online pregnancy care interventions, we conducted an analysis on pregnant consumers’ questions posted to Yahoo! Answers to uncover their information needs across three pregnancy phases – pre-pregnancy, gestation and postpartum. Our analysis identified 14 categories of information needs which largely related to stage. In response to their posts we also identified various forms of support including affirmations, opinions or suggestions, health advice etc.

Although digital services and mobile apps to facilitate pregnancy self-care are increasingly available, research on their effectiveness remains lacking. A systematic review of pregnancy-related app functionalities and user interface features revealed substantial heterogeneity; as a result it is suggested that RCTs with economic, clinical, and long-term patient-centered outcomes be prioritized so users have better pregnancy self-care apps available to them.

March of Dimes’ Supportive Pregnancy Care group prenatal care program offers high-quality clinical and educational care tailored to local community needs. Download our patient recruitment materials and discover more on how you can implement this program in your practice or community.

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