Chatbot Connects New Moms with Timely Infant and Maternal Care

Chatbot Connects New Moms with Timely Infant and Maternal Care.

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This article was written by Jessica N. Rivera Rivera, PHD, MPH, and Claire Starling, MPH. In our study, we found that new parents find chatbot resources for infant and maternal care useful when caring for a newborn and recovering from childbirth.

 

Babies don’t come with an instruction manual, but thanks to the dedication of clinicians and researchers at MedStar Health, new moms can get closer to a ‘how-to guide’ than ever before. 


Our experts in health equity, human factors, and clinical care have collaborated to design two chat-based communications programs that connect new parents with information about infant and maternal health during the first six weeks of life. The programs, one geared to infant health and another for birthing individuals, launched in August 2022.


Our research shows that birthing individuals find the chatbot helpful. More than 60% of people who got the tool used it, and we’re using this research and feedback to make the chatbot even better. MedStar Health’s scientific approach to developing and refining maternal health tools allows us to help make a difference for new mothers in our communities. 


In Washington, D.C., 44 out of 100,000 people die during the process of giving birth, almost double the national average, and the rate of infant deaths is among the highest in the country at 6.81 infant deaths per 1,000. Studies have shown that 90% of birth-related deaths in DC are among Black people.

 

MedStar Health is working to change that with multifaceted efforts like the D.C. Safe Babies Safe Moms Program. The maternal chatbot program is one part of that effort.

A 2022 study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that more than half of pregnancy-related deaths happen from 7 days to one year after delivery. Our chatbots are designed to help birthing individuals identify early warning signs during this postpartum period and know when to connect with care.

Postpartum support from day one.

Working with health providers from specialties like obstetrics, pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry, and social work, we spent about a year developing the content for these programs.

When a patient gives birth at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, we contact them via text message or email within 24 hours. They get an introductory message and a hyperlink to the chat program, which provides doctor-approved information on topics such as:

  • When it’s time to take your baby to the doctor
  • Signs of illness in a newborn
  • Tips for recovery after giving birth
  • Signs of postpartum depression and anxiety
  • Tips to build your social support network

That’s just the beginning. Patients receive weekly messages to use the chatbot through their baby’s first 42 days of life—the six weeks, also known as the postpartum period. During this critical recovery time, new mothers have an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, hemorrhage (excessive bleeding), stroke, high blood pressure, and sepsis. Communication with a healthcare provider can help new moms stay healthy.


Related reading:
Research Helps Us Better Understand the Lived Experiences of Black Women with Severe Maternal Morbidity.

Studying the results and refining the content.

After we launched the chatbots, we surveyed or interviewed 123 patients to find ways to improve the tool. Our data show that 60% of patients who get messages about the chatbot access it, so we’ve revamped our messaging to encourage more engagement.

Patient feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. They tell us they’re better able to keep track of appointments and know what questions to ask their doctor (something providers appreciate, too). As patients ask for more information, as they have for breastfeeding, we work with providers to update the chatbot with the latest details.

They are happy that MedStar Health follows up with new parents in a proactive way, showing care for our patients and connection to our community. 

Related reading: Improving Maternal and Child Health Through Research Using Human-Centered Design and Open-source Data.

Making a difference for D.C. moms.

The mortality rates and racial disparities in maternal and infant health in Washington, D.C., are striking, and it’s our responsibility to do something about it. Education is one way to level the playing field, and our chatbots help our patients learn what they need to know and equip them to ask important questions.

This project results from years of collaboration between providers and researchers (primarily women) determined to ensure birthing patients have access to timely information when they leave the hospital. It’s just one piece of MedStar Health’s D.C. Safe Babies Safe Moms Program and a channel to make a real difference for babies and moms in the District.

 

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