Monday, Jan 23, 2023

Improving Maternal Health Outcomes with Digital Solutions

Will PorteousChief Growth Officer, Maven

HLTH Foundation

The U.S. is embroiled in a maternal health crisis, with pregnant people today 50% more likely to die in childbirth than their mothers were a generation ago. A driving factor behind the high mortality rate is the disproportionate number of Black and Indigenous women who experience pregnancy-related complications and death. Devastatingly, the CDC estimates that 84% of maternal deaths in the U.S. are preventable.

While the crisis is driven by large, systemic issues, employers and health plans can be crucial players in the fight to improve maternal health outcomes. Because these organizations often determine people’s access to quality care, they’re well-positioned to make an impact, reducing disparities and improving maternal health outcomes for their members and employees. The benefits of improving maternal health care extend beyond the member. Offering comprehensive, high-quality maternity care leads to more engaged and loyal employees and improving maternal health outcomes drives cost savings for employers and health plans alike. 

However, these benefits only accrue if individuals are able to access them. Currently, over half of the counties in the U.S. don’t have a single OB/GYN, much less more limited specialties like reproductive endocrinologists. Increasing access to maternity care is where digital solutions can truly shine: without the limitations of brick and mortar clinics, people can access the wide range of support they need when starting and raising families, no matter where they live. 

Understanding digital family health solutions

How can employers and health plans make a difference? Many organizations are turning to digital family health solutions to better support their members and employees as they navigate their path to and through parenthood.

“Digital family health solutions” refer to apps and online platforms that help members when starting and raising families, complementing in-person care provided through their health plan. These benefits could include:

  • Fertility support
  • Adoption and surrogacy support
  • Referrals to in-person fertility clinics and OB-GYNs
  • 24/7 virtual access to specialty care providers, pre- and postpartum resources, parenting support, pediatric resources, and more. 

How digital solutions can improve maternal health outcomes

Digital family health solutions reduce barriers to receiving high-quality healthcare, including lack of access, discrimination and implicit bias, social determinants of health, and low health literacy. 

Increasing access to healthcare experts

Many people in the United States struggle to simply access the maternity care they need. March of Dimes reports that up to 6.9 million women in the US are living in “maternity care deserts,” meaning patients have limited or no access to maternity health care services. What’s more, over a quarter of U.S. women have to wait more than four weeks to see a specialist, limiting providers’ ability to address issues as they arise and increasing the likelihood of poor outcomes for both parent and baby.

Digital health can improve access to healthcare experts, including OB-GYNs, doulas, mental health specialists, and more. Because virtual care is not bound by geography or office hours, people are able to get the care they need, when and where they need it. This virtual care can fill in gaps for women who may not have local access to timely care during pregnancy, and it can also provide support between in-person care appointments, driving improved outcomes.

Screening for SDOH and referrals to community-based organizations

Social determinants of health (SDOH)—like housing, education, and systemic racism—play an outsized role in pregnancy outcomes. According to the World Health Organization, these social needs account for 30-55% of health outcomes. However, many social needs often go unmet because they’re often not screened for during healthcare visits, despite patients’ willingness to provide that information. Our research team found that over 85% of people are comfortable sharing their social needs with their care team, regardless of the team’s ability to address those needs. 

Digital solutions can easily screen for SDOH upon enrollment, as well as solicit race data from new members. When digital care teams identify members’ social needs, they can connect them with community-based organizations and other local social support to further address their needs, which can help improve their health outcomes in pregnancy and beyond. 

Improving care matching to reduce disparities

Care matching, where patients meet with doctors who share their same background and lived experiences, can improve health inequities and drive outcomes. Unfortunately, finding local doctors that share patients’ backgrounds can often be challenging. Combined, Latinx and Black doctors account for just 11% of all physicians in the U.S., and only about 3% of doctors identify as LGBTQIA+. 

However, through digital family health solutions, people have access to a nationwide network of providers—and many digital health solutions recruit their provider pool with a focus on diversity. As a result, members are more likely to find providers who can provide them with culturally-humble care. 

Empowering members through education

Nearly 9 out of 10 Americans have limited health literacy skills and struggle with understanding health-related information. This lack of literacy is linked to more emergency room visits, more hospitalizations, and higher mortality rates. Health literacy can be improved through education, yet in-person provider visits are often too short to meaningfully educate members. And when patients try to find health advice online, it’s often overwhelming for people to find a clinically-vetted source of medical information that doesn’t contain misinformation. 

For many, digital family health solutions become a trusted resource for understandable health content and education. Members can meet with providers for extended periods, with no cap on how many providers they talk to or how many appointments they have. Outside of appointments, quality digital solutions also provide on-demand, clinically-vetted content, classes led by healthcare experts, and support groups with peers in a similar stage of their family journey. By increasing healthcare literacy, digital family health solutions empower members to take control of their health and teach them how to advocate for themselves to get the care they need.  

Combatting the maternal health crisis can seem bigger than one company or health plan, but every organization has the power to make a meaningful impact on the health and wellbeing of their employees and members. Digital family health solutions like Maven Clinic can move the needle on women’s and family health, providing high-quality, on-demand care to fill existing gaps in the traditional healthcare system and improve health outcomes. 

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