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mHealth Project to Use Smartphones to Tackle Pregnancy Challenges

Researchers at the University of Texas are using a $1.2 million federal grant to create mHealth profiles of 1,000 pregnant women in a project aimed at improving care management and reducing pregnancy complications.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- The University of Texas is launching an mHealth project to track 1,000 pregnant women through the smartphones.

Backed by a $1.2 million National Science Foundation Smart and Connected Health grant, researchers will use an mHealth app to create digital profiles of the women participating in the study.

Through the remote monitoring project, they hope to gain a better understanding of what pregnant women do each day – and, eventually, learn why American women are more likely to die from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes than other women in the developed world.

“From their first appointment to six weeks post-partum, we will be able to analyze data to determine the impact of their everyday lives on their medical outcomes, and determine whether we see any digital markers of significant events such as labor,” Kelly Gaither, director of health analytics at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), an associate professor of women’s health at UT’s Dell Medical School’s Department of Women’s Health and the grant’s principal investigator, said in a news release provided by the university.

“We can examine the number of steps they take in a day, changes in speech patterns, unusual sleep patterns — even whether these women have an active social structure,” she added.

The program is one of several launched over the past few years to not only study the lifestyles of women during pregnancy, but improve care management and coordination and boost the chances of a healthy birth and outcomes for both the mother and the baby.

In 2017, a study conducted by the Wyoming Department of Public Health using the WYhealth Due Date Plus app from Wildflower Health found that app users were 76 percent more likely to schedule prenatal visits at least six months before delivery than those not using an app. More importantly, pregnant women using the app were only 25 percent as likely to deliver a low-birth-weight baby as those women who didn’t use an app.

More recently, researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute created an app designed to help obstetricians and caregivers identify depression in pregnant women and new mothers.

“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.”

In Austin, researchers will be modifying a digital health app originally developed at Harvard University to collect physical, social and behavioral data, ranging from daily activity to smartphone use. That data will then be integrated with each participant’s electronic health record.

They also plan to use the university’s new supercomputer, called Frontera, to apply AI technology to pregnancy challenges, such as unplanned C-sections.

“We know how to bring advanced computing to bear on this issue, including using data-driven science, mathematical models and emerging computational techniques such as more advanced forms of machine learning,” Gaither said.

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