Over the last year, access to telehealth has sparked considerable ingenuity and created opportunities for those seeking all types of medical care.
As COVID-19 cases began to rise, health professionals had to quickly adapt to safe, virtual care wherever possible to protect vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and children. It is important for expecting parents to have access to obstetricians and medical assistance, even – and especially – during a pandemic. Studies show that infants whose mothers did not receive prenatal care are more likely to have a low birth weight and die in infancy than infants whose mothers received quality prenatal care.
A study conducted by the Urban Institute found that virtual prenatal care can combat the current maternal mortality crisis, which disproportionately affects women of color. The United States experiences one of the highest maternal mortality rates among high-income countries. Roughly 700 women die during their pregnancy or delivery each year. Among these numbers, there are racial and wealth disparities. The expansion of telehealth is making care more accessible to women, especially low-income and rural patients.
Prenatal telehealth has allowed traditional practices to continue during the pandemic. During a telehealth visit, partners can attend appointments and provide additional support. Additionally, the convenience of telehealth has eliminated the barriers leading to poor attendance rates. Some maternal care providers expanded their services, offering postpartum mental health visits via telehealth. Many women do not seek out postpartum care, but the convenience of care from the comfort of home has drastically increased attendance. The broad scope of telehealth options in maternal care can lead to healthier mothers and babies.
Telehealth has provided an opportunity for accessible care and should become a permanent addition to health care. Nearly half of all births in the U.S. are covered by Medicaid, especially among women of color. In the last year, Medicaid has expanded telehealth services to all 50 states, and several states have created initiatives that enhance financial assistance for maternal care. However, many of these initiatives are only temporary. Permanent telehealth initiatives can create equitable care opportunities for all mothers and help close the racial disparities among maternal mortality.
Virtual care has presented unique opportunities for maternal health providers to expand their digital scope. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it’s important to strive for equitable access to health care for women in all stages of their life.