A (baby) booming industry: What will digital maternity care look like in 2021?

Technology is rapidly becoming more and more ubiquitous within healthcare, from health wearables to smart inhalers and even the bio-printing of organs. Yet digital maternity remains an area that is still relatively immature in the emerging digital health field. This won’t be the case for long though, says Dan Cooper, K2’s Customer Relationship Manager, who believes the industry is right on the precipice of a boom.

“It’s a very exciting time. People are becoming far more aware of what’s in the market and what they expect from a good digital system. There were a lot of products that fitted the bill a few years ago when people were less aware of what they needed but they just haven’t kept up with the times. Digital maternity is fast moving and the tech needs to keep up.”

More remote care options

The pandemic has accelerated the speed with which technology is being utilised by clinicians to provide care for pregnant women and both are beginning to expect much more from it. It’s also highlighted the need for more solutions that make care more convenient for the women, as well as making them feel supported even when they’re not directly interacting with their maternity services.

“Not all women live ten minutes from the hospital. Some live in the sticks, and some do not have easy access to transport, getting to the hospital is hard work for them,” says Dan. “Remote monitoring of things like blood pressure, temperature, mental health, and baby feeding will all become more common. These are things we’ve already built – for example, K2 Hampton enables women to remotely manage blood pressure and urine protein – but that I predict we’re going to be seeing a lot more of.”

While technology will never replace hands-on care, what has become clear is that there are areas where the use of digital solutions as an extension of traditional care models has proven equally as safe and effective. In these circumstances, Dan believes that technology looks set to become far more commonplace and may, in many cases, replace the need for women to physically go into the hospital for treatment when they don’t need to.

“I think there will be a lot more video consultations. We’re going to see solutions that make care more convenient for women. I think they will be given the choice, but what you will see is that women will interact with their midwifery service a lot more digitally than they do at the moment. Things like the ability to triage – filling in symptom forms or chat facilities with midwives – could help manage admissions to stretched outpatient settings. Things that can be linked to the patient record to give a much deeper context on what’s really going on with a case at any one time.”

Real-time decision support

Decision support tools are digital tools developed to assist decision making and suggest next steps for treatment, or alert clinicians to potential problems they may not have noticed. Dan predicts that real-time decision support tools have the potential to greatly enhance the way care is delivered in the near future. It’s one thing being able to learn retrospectively to prevent issues from occurring further down the line, but another thing entirely to prevent them there and then.

“That’s where I think you’ll make a massive leap in terms of patient safety. Technology that alerts staff to possible issues or being able to flag for reviews, or use algorithms to predict risk.”

He adds that some of these solutions already exist and when those that don’t become available they will likely have a hugely positive impact. However, what he stresses is equally as important as the solution itself, is the way in which the information is communicated to clinicians. There are huge amounts of data to sift through and so presenting it in a clear, succinct style is critical to the success of such tools.

“The information needs to be shared in a format that’s easy to digest in a matter of seconds. There’s so much potential for an overload of information within maternity care. There can be so much information but giving clinicians real-time tools to help direct their care I think is really important.”

More flexible maternity systems

K2 continues to lead the way in developing both medical software and patient monitoring devices. But our work is never done when it comes to improving the breadth and flexibility of service our existing products deliver.

There are plenty of exciting developments in the pipeline due to be released in 2021, says Dan. Those that really stand out in terms of improving the day-to-day of our customers include increased flexibility and integration of Athena, our Electronic Maternity Health Record.

“We’re working on new features for Athena that will give our customers much more flexibility and design the service how they need it to be. We are looking at how to give clinicians the exact information they need, exactly when they need it, quantify risk more effectively and give them more contextual help when they need it. We’re also working on integration with things like NHS Login, and exploring ideas of new types of remote care and how that can support staff.”

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