Giving birth can be incredibly stressful and risky for all maternity patients. But the truth is that some groups of people and communities are consistently more likely to experience the dangerous complications that can unfold before, during, and after pregnancy.
A number of recent reports have highlighted the challenges faced by mothers and infants across the country — for some populations more than others. But it’s one thing to recognize that maternity care in the U.S faces an equity crisis. It’s even more important to understand how a digital strategy powered by intelligent care enablement can play its part to help address it.
Why is maternity care in crisis?
Though maternity care innately encompasses care related to the pregnancy journey, it also comprises healthcare for families and infants. This can include wellness monitoring for mothers and babies, education for new parents, and perinatal care management assistance.
That being said, maternity care is complex. Everything from mothers’ nutrition during pregnancy to appointment delays can make a difference in outcomes. Pre-existing conditions like hypertension and diabetes can lead to serious complications during childbirth. Severe bleeding and infections after giving birth can prove fatal for mothers. And lack of access to quality healthcare exacerbates negative outcomes, amplifying disparities even more.
Unfortunately, a National Center for Health Statistics report found the U.S. reached a grim milestone in March 2023: a 58-year high for overall maternal mortality. Though delays in preventative care due to COVID-19 were partially responsible for this troubling trend, the truth is that long-standing disparities in healthcare and social determinants of health (SDoH) continue to exacerbate maternity complications for at-risk populations.
The statistics are sobering. For example, the same study found Black mothers experience 2.6x higher mortality rates than their white counterparts, accounting for 30% of maternal deaths. Other research has found this maternal health disparity by race and ethnicity extends to newborns, with infants born to Black mothers twice as likely to die from childbirth-related complications compared to those born to white mothers.
Addressing maternal and infant mortality means understanding persistent inequities and SDoH — for the individual, community, and in hospital settings — and implementing comprehensive structural solutions to heal these gaps. With access to quality care presenting an exceptionally significant barrier for at-risk communities, leaders across the industry must prioritize interventions to reduce disparities. And a great place to start is by looking at your digital healthcare strategy.
How can intelligent care enablement help with delivering equitable maternity care?
Over the past decade, much of the healthtech aimed at simplifying care management has relied on automation. But automation only scratches the surface when it comes to helping every patient throughout more complex aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. How can an automated system help a new mother with postpartum depression? How does an appointment reminder system answer a pregnant woman’s questions about preparing for her upcoming glucose test? What happens when patients have urgent concerns about symptoms that require clinical input?
That’s where intelligent care enablement can play an important role. By marrying the benefits of automation with the power of innovative AI and natural language processing (NLP), intelligent care enablement has the potential to improve care management for all patients — especially in complex and long-term care scenarios like pregnancy.
Providing best-in-class care for everyone isn’t a destination. It’s a process that the entire healthcare industry needs to continuously engage in and improve upon to make real progress. Various strategies need to be implemented to address disparities in maternity care — from comprehensive public health programs to investment in preventative care. But intelligent care enablement has the potential to help healthcare organizations jumpstart their initiatives to expand services and give all mothers, babies, and families safe and accessible care by:
1. Providing postnatal care management support
There’s no question delivering a baby takes a physical toll on the mother. But new moms can experience complications for weeks after giving birth. Excessive bleeding, infection, blood pressure changes, heart issues, blood clots, and depression are only some of the potentially dangerous conditions that could arise. Forward-thinking intelligent care enablement platforms like Memora Health go beyond text reminders for appointments to provide patients with AI-backed virtual assistance throughout their care journeys — supporting mothers with postpartum mental health screenings, sleep and fatigue information, remote patient monitoring for blood pressure, and newborn feeding advice. And, because the support is text-based, there’s no need for healing mothers to leave their homes or wait on long phone lines to receive guidance.
2. Educating maternity care patients
Proficient health literacy — the ability for patients to find, understand, and navigate information related to their health — is widely associated with better outcomes. And this is especially true for maternity care. For instance, understanding how to prepare for a pregnancy can make a huge difference. Babies born to mothers who don’t receive adequate prenatal care are 3x more likely to have a low birthweight. The best intelligent care enablement platforms use current clinical guidelines to actively educate maternity patients throughout their care journeys — focusing on warning signs, comfort measures, and expectations during each trimester — so they're well-informed about what they need to do every step of the way to support a complication-free experience for them and their babies.
3. Making digital healthcare accessible
It seems like every provider or health system offers its patients a portal. Although these digital smartphone applications might seem convenient, recent research suggests a majority of patients never or rarely use them. On top of that, portals and apps require wifi or data, which can inherently block people in low-income communities without access from using intelligent care enablement technology. To help healthcare organizations provide excellent care for everyone in their communities, the most innovative digital healthcare platforms deliver automated, AI-supported assistance to patients through tried-and-true SMS. By eliminating the internet barrier — not to mention the need to remember usernames and passwords — health systems can shape a less frustrating and more accessible experience for patients already under extreme stress.
Childbirth will always have inherent risks. But with modern-day capabilities, insights, and technologies, there should be no reason healthcare can’t mitigate those chances of danger — not just for the few, but for everyone. With intelligent care enablement, providers can begin to put thought into action and put systems into place to create a more equitable and accessible future with fewer adverse maternal outcomes.