Getting started: Is maternal telehealth right for your community?
Get started with an assessment of whether a maternal telehealth program is a good fit for your community. Collect information about your community’s needs and your patients.
A few things to consider when launching a telehealth program
- Do you live in a rural area without easily accessible maternity services?
- What percentage of your community is connected to the Internet?
- Do you have an underserved population in your community that needs a higher level of maternal care services?
- What is the maternal mortality rate of your community?
- How frequently do patients in your community delay their antenatal care?
Consider the telehealth services you may offer
There are many services you can provide to promote a safe, healthy pregnancy and attentive postpartum care. Maternal telehealth services may include:
- New patient and routine appointments
- Send electronic transmission of digital imaging to a practitioner or specialist for evaluation
- Test results sent through an app or via video chat
- Specialist and sub-specialist visits
- Remote monitoring
- Mental health services for postpartum depression and anxiety
- Prescription management
- Lactation support
Consider the staffing support you may need
Babies — and pregnancy concerns — occur 24 hours a day, on weekdays, weekends, and holidays. Your telehealth practice could be the first line of defense for a patient who lives a long distance from their nearest hospital. Your local practice might be the only place your patient and their family trusts with their care and concerns. Your patient may delay expensive emergency care because of financial concerns.
Is there someone a new parent can call or video chat with when their baby isn’t feeding or when their incision isn’t healing? What should your patient do if their blood pressure spikes and they experience symptoms such as blurred vision, headache, or chest pain? What if your patient begins bleeding or cramping?
You know your practice and your patients. Here is a list of potential staff positions to consider for your maternal telehealth care program.
- Registered nurse
- Nurse practitioner
- Physician assistant
- Lactation consultant
- Licensed social worker
- Additional office staff to handle telehealth bookings and tech support
Evaluation of the Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategy Program — Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA)
How to set up your maternal telehealth program
There are several factors you should consider as you get started. Your first major decision will be to decide which maternal telehealth services you will offer. You will then need to decide how your practice will meet those needs.
Our guide to planning your telehealth workflow will give you more information on the business and technology basics. But there are several telehealth considerations specific to pregnancy and postpartum care.
Get ready to launch your maternal telehealth service
Once you are ready to launch your program, you will want to decide how you will advertise your telehealth services and how you will handle the technical needs of the service.
Consider how information travels in your community. Advertise your telehealth services in a way that will reach the most people. This could include:
- Printed signage near your office
- Brochures and handouts in multiple languages for your waiting room and local community groups
- Brochures in local pediatrician offices
- An email or phone call to your current patients
- Social media posts
- An ad in your local newspaper or local mother and child magazines
- Letters or postcards mailed to the community
- A booth or stand at community events such as health fairs, baby expos, or town celebrations
You will also need to consider the technical needs of your office and your patients. Is your staff tech savvy? Do you have the right equipment to handle ongoing video calls? Your needs may include:
- Reliable, high speed Internet
- A list of resources that your patients will need so that they can participate in telehealth appointments, including reliable internet service and access to a computer, smartphone, or tablet for video chats
- Computers or tablets that can handle high definition video calls without interruption
- Training for providers and staff in telehealth procedures, policies, and privacy
Remote monitoring options
One benefit of telehealth for maternal care is the ability to remotely monitor your patients and reduce in-person appointments. This includes a method of obtaining information from the patients and communicating it to you.
Common prenatal monitoring equipment includes:
- Blood pressure monitor
- Portable fetal heart rate monitor
- Pulse oximeter
- Blood glucose testing equipment
- Weight scale
How to track and share the success of your program
Before you see your first telehealth patient, you will want to track your program’s effectiveness.
First, identify your program goals. That goal could be as simple as having enough maternal telehealth patients to sustain the increase in business costs.
Another goal could be aim to reach a certain percentage increase in care for patients who are typically underserved. These patients may include rural maternal health patients, pregnant or postpartum Black patients, or patients who do not speak English as a first language.
You could also track new patients who joined your practice because of maternal telehealth care. Or offer new services via telehealth, such as screening for postpartum depression or lactation help.
Your goals will help you define your program’s key performance indicators. Your key performance indicators, often referred to as KPI, is a measure of the effectiveness and success of a business plan.
Once you determine your key performance indicators, you can use them track the successes of your program. You can also track your progress with a spreadsheet or you can hire an analytics company to track your progress.
Other program measurement considerations
Share your successes with your patients and with your community. This is a great opportunity to talk to potential stakeholders. You can also reach more patients that could benefit from maternal telehealth care.
Get feedback. Whether your program takes off or the early data is sluggish, getting feedback is important. Ask your patients questions such as:
- What do you like about your maternal telehealth appointments?
- What do you dislike about the telehealth appointments?
- What would you change?
- What would make telehealth easier or more comfortable for you?
- What other services would you like to see offered via telehealth?
- Do you feel like your concerns were heard and addressed in your telehealth appointment?
- Would you schedule another telehealth appointment?
Evaluation Measures for Rural Telehealth Programs — Rural Health Information Hub
SpotlightMedical University of South Carolina Reproductive Behavioral Health
The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Reproductive Behavioral Health program provides mental health and substance abuse services to underserved and remote communities across South Carolina.
The program focuses on medication-assisted-treatment delivered in person and via telehealth. To develop the program, MUSC mapped out physical locations of current providers to find geographic gaps where telehealth could be helpful. Services include:
- Preventative therapy for women at high risk for postpartum depression
- Counseling on the safety of medications during pregnancy and lactation
- Therapy and medication treatment options for mental health and substance use disorders
Read more: MUSC Reproductive Behavioral Health Program