Editor's note: This story was first published on The Growth Channel and has been modified for a care transformation audience.
Maternal mortality rates in the United States continue to rise, even as they decline in other developed nations. Equally alarming are the high rates of pre-term birth and low birth weight infants.
Infographic: Benchmark your maternal fetal medicine program against national standards
In our last post, we illuminated the racial disparities of poor infant outcomes. But unsurprisingly, race isn't the only factor that reveals gaps in care. While the shortage of maternal fetal medicine (MFM) specialists spans the country, uneven provider distribution means rural women in particular lack access to care. In fact, 98% of MFM specialists are located in metropolitan areas.
To fill this service gap, select organizations have tapped into specialty telehealth programs to enable expectant mothers to receive care close to home and health systems to retain these patients for delivery.
Read on to learn how one telehealth provider improved pregnancy outcomes while helping rural health systems in Georgia retain women with high-risk pregnancies by meeting all their care needs close to home.
Identifying a (very wide) gap in Georgia
In Georgia, which has some of the poorest birth outcomes in the United States, 27,500 babies were born pre-term and/or underweight in 2017. Contributing to this, Georgia is severely undersupplied in appropriate maternity care providers: The entire state has only 20 obstetricians (OBs) who are licensed to deliver high-risk pregnancy care.
Using Telehealth to fill the service gap
Women's Telehealth, an Atlanta-based MFM practice, offers 100% of its consults virtually to supplement local care offered by rural providers in Georgia and neighboring states.
Health systems partner with Women's Telehealth, which provides support and care to high-risk pregnancy patients. These patients can visit their local OB's office, where a virtually-present MFM assists with care planning for a safe, healthy delivery. This way, patients get otherwise-inaccessible specialty care, and rural hospitals are able to provide appropriate care without recruiting new specialists.
The result? In partnership with Georgia Medicaid, Women's Telehealth was able to reduce pre-term birth rates in targeted clinics by nearly 50%.
A positive byproduct: Translating outcomes into patient retention
Access issues not only result in poor health outcomes, but in missed opportunities for keeping patients connected with their primary providers. By involving MFMs in the care planning process, Women's Telehealth prepares rural providers to care for high-risk pregnancies and deliveries.
Furthermore, MFMs can virtually collaborate with rural neonatologists to notify them about expected complications, helping to coordinate care for these complex newborns. For example, after partnering with Women's Telehealth, one rural hospital was able to keep 95% of the NICU cases that would have previously been referred to a higher-acuity setting. This not only eased the travel burden for patients, it enhanced the service offerings—and therefore revenue opportunities—for the hospital.
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