The need to improve maternal and child health equity in America while reducing access disparities has become a national focus. Nevertheless, gaps in maternal health persist.
The rate of pregnancy-related mortality in the U.S. has been rising steadily for three decades, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. The maternal death rate among Black women remains three times that of white women, notes a National Center for Health Statistics/CDC report from earlier this year.
As policymakers and provider organizations continue to seek ways to reverse these trends, hospitals and health systems are stepping up with innovative efforts.
1 | Northwell pushes to reduce Black maternal mortality.
With its newly announced Center for Maternal Health, Northwell Health has a linchpin in its high-tech, high-touch campaign to reduce the maternal mortality and pregnancy-related health risks among Black women. The center will provide prenatal and postpartum programs across New York City to support high-risk women in and out of the hospital and train physicians on best practices. The initiatives will bring together members of the health system’s obstetrics and gynecology department, population health division and the Katz Institute for Women’s Health.
The center also will work with community-based organizations to connect women in underserved areas with Northwell services and to address health conditions that can occur before conception through the first year after delivery, including social factors of health that raise the risk of complications.
Through its recent partnership with Aegis Ventures, a New York-based startup studio, Northwell plans to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to develop new data-driven approaches to detecting and managing serious complications for expectant mothers and babies. Ascertain, a joint-company creation platform, is building AI models to help clinicians predict the risk of developing preeclampsia, a hypertensive pregnancy complication that disproportionately affects Black women, and enables earlier intervention.
2 | Banner telehealth pilot targets rural obstetrical care for moms.
Sterling (Colo.) Regional MedCenter has begun a pilot program to increase access to obstetrical care for mothers in labor in rural areas. The Banner Health initiative will ensure that family physicians with obstetric privileges can connect with an OB-GYN specialist at North Colorado Medical Center (NCMC) in Greeley, whose sole focus is the care of women as they deliver their babies.
The consultations can occur over the phone between the two physicians or via a telehealth cart that can be brought into the patient’s room, facilitating a three-way virtual conversation. The specialist also can access the patient’s electronic health record to obtain real-time information on both the mother and baby’s health.
Expected outcomes of the program include a decreased need for medical interventions such as a cesarean section, and a decreased need to transfer the patient from the rural hospital to a larger one like NCMC, according to Blake McLaughlin, D.O., Banner OB-GYN. The program also is intended to reduce disparities in care for pregnant women in rural areas. Banner plans to expand its teleobstetrics program to other communities.
3 | UNMC‘s new center to address women‘s health research.
Nationally and internationally, women’s health research activities have been underfunded, notes Carl Smith, M.D., Olson Professor and chair of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s department of obstetrics and gynecology. The Nebraska Center for Women’s Health Research is being created to help foster collaborations that will lead to health care breakthroughs and examine the causes of women’s health disparities.
In addition to drawing interest from the university’s researchers, the center will promote and facilitate educational opportunities, provide a base of education for women’s health issues and disparities and a platform for nationally recognized experts to speak to researchers, educators, students and the community. It also will work to coordinate and organize research across other disciplines on campus that involve women’s health issues.
Many studies that have been conducted in the U.S. in areas like medication use often systematically exclude women from participation due to concerns related to pregnancy, Smith said in a statement. “Thus, we have medications that have been approved for use without ever having been adequately studied in women. The Center for Women’s Health Research will allow for the organization of research activities such as these.”
Learn More: Visit the AHA’s Maternal and Child Health webpage for case studies, tools, best practices and other resources focused on safeguarding the health of mothers and babies.