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mHealth Gives Moms - New and Expecting - a Reassuring Resource

Health plans are using mHealth apps and telehealth platforms to link new mothers and mothers-to-be with information on everything from breastfeeding to sleep positions.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- An Arizona-based health plan is launching an mHealth app that offers free video counseling to pregnant women and new moms on Medicaid.

The Care1st Health Plan, part of the Florida-based WellCare Health Plan network, is rolling out the Pacify mobile app in a pilot program to expectant mothers and those who have had a baby within the past 12 months and who are Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) members.

The app is one of several mHealth tools being rolled out across the country to select populations – such as new and expecting mothers, minorities, those with addiction issues and teenagers – by health plans eager to get a handle on skyrocketing healthcare costs. They’re pushing out health and wellness tips, reminders, directions to the nearest providers, even scheduling tools, all in an effort to cut down on preventable health issues.

One of the most popular populations targeted for mHealth is mothers.  They’re often overwhelmed or stressed out, and in need of real-time resources and reassurance.

In Georgia, Blue Cross Blue Shield has launched a maternity telehealth platform for all members of its State Health Benefit Plan. The LiveHealth Online platform gives new and expectant moms access to lactation consultants, counselors and registered dietitians through private and secure video using a smartphone, tablet or computer with a webcam.

“This a significant addition to the Future Moms program, given that breastfeeding can often be such a complex and challenging endeavor for mothers and their newborns,” said April Ruffin, MD, Medical Director of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia.

The value of mHealth messaging can be life-saving. In a report issued in July, researchers from the schools of medicine at Boston University, Yale University and the University of Virginia found that text messages on safe sleep practices helped new mothers protect their infants against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

"A lot of parents can be overwhelmed when caring for a new baby, partly because they are not sure what to do or get different advice from different people,” Rachel Moon, MD, of the UVA School of Medicine, said of the project, conducted in 2016 with some 1,263 new parents through 16 hospitals around the country. “We think that the videos and support that we provided in the texts and e-mails helped to give parents the information that they needed when they needed it and also addressed common concerns many parents have."

In Wyoming, meanwhile, researchers found that pregnant women in the state’s Medicaid program who used a customized app were more likely to consult with doctors during maternity and to deliver healthy babies.

“This study demonstrates that mobile maternity applications can positively influence people’s decisions to attend early prenatal appointments and improve their connections to healthcare resources,” said Dilek Barlow, MA, director of client services at San Francisco-based Wildflower Health, which developed the app.  “Moreover, it shows that Medicaid populations can be highly engaged with digital tools that have the potential to greatly improve outreach and education in this population.”

In Arizona, the goal is to give new and expecting mothers a real-time video link to important resources, including lactation consultants and nutritionists.

"The Pacify mobile app will provide immediate, cutting-edge support for new moms at the touch of a button," George Brandes, co-founder and chief operating officer of Pacify Health, which developed the app, said in a press release. "Care1st members will now have an unprecedented level of access to care, with video-enabled consults available even in the middle of the night and on weekends when there aren't a lot of other options." 

"We understand how important these early years are to both mothers and their young children when instilling healthy habits that will affect a lifetime," added Scott Cummings, state president of Care1st. "This collaboration is exciting because it will aid us as we strive to promote the health and wellness of our members in a more interactive and modern way."

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