Bridging the gaps with telehealth
Telehealth during pregnancy is part of the solution for many patients. Telehealth reduces the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 within an OB-GYN office. This protects patients, providers, staff, and family members.
The option of telehealth can break down barriers in access to life-saving care, including:
- Routine prenatal and postpartum care to patients who lack transportation and/or live in rural areas
- Access to sub-specialists located several hours away
- More choice of providers for patients of color who may not feel comfortable with local options
- Prenatal and postpartum mental health services
Telehealth can also assist for antepartum and postpartum complications. Telehealth providers can assist in the recognition of pregnancy complication that may need immediate medical attention. Those conditions include:
- HELLP (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes and Low Platelets) syndrome
- Postpartum depression
Telehealth for rural patients
Less than half of U.S. women living in rural areas are within a 30-minute drive from a hospital with obstetric services. More than 10 percent drive 100 miles or more, according to a report from the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (PDF). Having to travel long distances to get maternal health care often leads to higher rates of delayed prenatal care and health complications.
Telehealth vs in-person maternal care
Telehealth is not the primary way that most patients access maternal health services. But telehealth can be a critical step toward increasing prenatal care and decreasing maternal mortality rates.
There are also options for in-person care without the patient having to travel long distance to an OB-GYN. Some diagnostic tests and imaging, including ultrasound, can be performed remotely from tertiary centers in local hospitals.
And technology is ever evolving — providers may soon be able to order remote fetal monitoring to be done at the patient’s home.
But there are some maternal health care services that require an in-office visit.
- Internal exams
- Diagnosis and treatment for severe illness
- Treatment for high-risk patients
Improving Access to Maternal Health Care in Rural Communities (PDF) — Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS)
Investigating the Impact of COVID-19 during Pregnancy — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Maternal Mortality — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Rural OB Access and Maternal Services
The Rural OB Access and Maternal Services network (ROAMS) provides telehealth and obstetric (OB) care to five rural counties in New Mexico. ROAMS’ initial goal was to reduce maternal mortality and improve OB access to their communities.
ROAMS introduced maternal telehealth services to connect parents-to-be with OB services and maternal-fetal medicine specialists in counties without any OB services available, often called “OB deserts.” This gives parents at-home access to OB services when they used to travel up to 5 hours by car to see a physician in person. ROAMS also provides home telehealth kits that automatically send medical data, like blood pressure and blood glucose levels, directly to the physicians monitoring their pregnancy.
Read more: Rural OB Access and Maternal Services