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mHealth App Aims to Help Caregivers Identify Perinatal Depression

The mHealth app, designed by researchers at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, helps obstetric care providers identify perinatal depression in soon-to-be and new mothers and gives them care management tips.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- A new mHealth app aims to help obstetricians by giving them a mobile health resource to detect and manage depression in pregnant woman and new mothers.

Developed at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and University of Massachusetts Medical School, the app – called Lifeline4Moms - is designed as a resource for obstetricians and other care providers in identifying perinatal depression, which affects 14 percent of women and is considered the most common complication of pregnancy.

“Perinatal depression is a major problem,” Bengisu Tulu, an associate professor of business at WPI’s Foisie Business School and the app’s creator, said in a press release issued by WPI. “By using Lifeline4Moms during an office visit with a patient, obstetric caregivers can map out a treatment plan and help the patient make an appointment with a counselor, for example, to increase the likelihood that the patient will actually follow up and get the mental health care she needs.”

Tulu said the mobile health tool is designed to help maternal care providers who might not have the psychiatric expertise to identify perinatal depression. As such, it’s meant to be a resource, and not a clinical decision support tool.  It lists the symptoms of mild, moderate and severe depression and offers suggestions for treatment paths and guidance on how to talk with the patient about mental health needs.

The app, which was tested with resident obstetricians at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and previewed at last November’s American Medical Informatics Association meeting, is among a growing number of mHealth and telehealth resources available for soon-to-be and new mothers as well as their care providers.

Last October, the nearby Massachusetts General Hospital’s Ammon-Pinizzotto Center for Women's Mental Health unveiled the MGH Perinatal Depression Scale (MGHPDS), a free iPhone app designed to help new mothers cope with postpartum depression and give researchers access to patient-generated data to help in identifying and treating the issue.

"Those who download the app and complete the included questionnaires may also consent to share their scores with researchers within our center here at MGH, further assisting in the development of an even shorter scale with greater specificity than what is currently available," Lee S. Cohen, MD, director of the Ammon-Pinizzotto Center and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said in a press release. "It is our hope that - as screening for PPD becomes increasingly common across the US and globally - easy-to-use tools like the MGHPDS, which can be readily used on smartphones and other digital devices, will lead to more accurate screening of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and to improved clinical outcomes for patients."

In other cases, apps have been designed to help pregnant women and new mothers access resources on pregnancy and parenting tips and to help healthcare providers monitor pregnant women susceptible to or who have developed gestational diabetes.

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