How will the use of smart devices continue to transform maternity care?

pregnant woman holding a phone

Over the past half decade or so, smartphones and tablets have become increasingly ubiquitous in maternity care. Placing more control in the hands of the pregnant woman and personalising care to an extent never previously achieved, the potential for smart devices to transform maternity care is only now beginning to be fully explored.

In 2020, the use of smart devices has moved beyond simple pregnancy tracking apps enabling women to follow their babies’ development in the womb. Initiatives like the NHS Maternity Transformation Programme encourage trusts to roll out digital tools that can help to improve care for women and their families, while the 2016 Better Births recommendations recognised the important role that digital technology has to play in transforming maternity services.

Paper-based to paper-light

Naturally, one of the first areas identified for digitalisation was the transition from paper-based to online maternity notes. Products like K2 Athena and My Pregnancy Notes make it possible for both staff and women to access maternity notes online, ensuring clinicians have a complete and continuous record of past, current, and future treatment and women have remote, round-the-clock access to their own notes.

“My Pregnancy Notes is very interactive,” says digital midwife Danielle Harper. “It’s mobile optimised and has all the leaflets on there so the woman can access and read them in her own time. She can also share the record with third parties, so if she is visiting a friend or family and hasn’t brought her pregnancy notes with her, that’s no longer an issue. She can attend another hospital and allow the care provider to have full access to her medical history with regards to her pregnancy, and the clinician can give her care that is specific to her.”

Instant information

It’s rare today to encounter a woman of childbearing age who isn’t regularly engaging with her smartphone. Having identified this behaviour, some trusts are now using QR codes to instantly connect patients to healthcare and disability information.

“QR codes are a really quick way to get a link to a website for further perusal at the woman’s leisure. Having QR codes available through a digital care record helps women to access other information, not just related to maternity care,” says Danielle.

She speculates that push notifications may soon be another common method used by trusts to instantly disseminate important information.

“For example, if new COVID-19 guidance has come out it can be immediately communicated to women.”

Video consultations

The COVID-19 outbreak quickly accelerated the speed with which maternity services were employing digital solutions. With the potential risks associated with in-person appointments, Trusts have increasingly been making bookings over the phone and using the Attend Anywhere package to conduct virtual consultations. This both facilitates safer care during the pandemic and reduces the need for women to make potentially unnecessary trips for routine appointments.

“We’re trying to screen more to enable us to bring people in when they need to come in and avoid them coming in if they don’t have to,” explains Danielle. “It can’t replace getting hands on with the women and you still need the same amount of appointments, but the benefit is that the women have the flexibility to decide how they receive care.”

Although in-person appointments remain vital, virtual consultations look set to become more common – even in a post-pandemic era. The enhancement to care and choice has the potential to improve the overall pregnancy experience as well as streamline the service maternity units can provide. Likewise, apps like K2 Hampton use inbuilt artificial intelligence to help expectant mothers self-monitor blood pressure and track urine protein from their homes or place of work, whilst keeping them in continuous contact with their midwife in hospital to reduce the number of clinic visits they need to make.

Virtual translation

Video calls have been immensely useful in maternity care throughout the pandemic, in more ways than one. The team at Peterborough City Hospital have been using iPads to virtually include translators when delivering care within the hospital, enabling real-time, face-to-face translations.

“We have quite a diverse population and a lot are either non-English speaking or it is their developing second language, so this has been revolutionary for the midwives when they’re providing care. Normally, the translator would have to come into the hospital or we’d give them a call during the appointment – but now each ward has an iPad and the translator can do the translation remotely but still almost face-to-face.”

It’s an advancement in the use of digital solutions in maternity care that will almost certainly become commonplace in the years to come. The pandemic has thrown the world into chaos, making it difficult to predict what next year will hold – let alone the next ten. However, what we can be sure of is that digital solutions will continue to shape maternity care as we know it and provide critical support to clinicians and pregnant women around the world. It’s an exciting time.

Contact us to find out how your hospital can use K2 products to enhance maternity care and provide a more personalised, streamlined service for pregnant women.