How telemedicine improves rural pregnancies: 5 things to know

Jessica Kim Cohen - Print  | 

Telemedicine technology is supporting positive health outcomes for rural women with high-risk pregnancies, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Here are five things to know about the trend.

1. Pregnancy-related complications in the U.S. have increased in recent years. Rural areas, in particular, tend to report high rates of risk factors for pregnancy complications, such as obesity, suggesting women in these regions may need access to specialized care.

2. However, specialists are less common in rural areas than their urban counterparts. Specialists who treat high-risk pregnant women — like maternal-fetal medicine physicians and cardiologists, for example — tend not to practice in small towns. Recently, rural hospitals, such as Saint Paul, Minn.-based St. Joseph's Hospital, have also been closing maternity wards.

3. Haywood Brown, MD, president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told The Wall Street Journal studying the use of telemedicine for prenatal care is one of the organization's priorities. An ACOG task force is developing guidelines for telemedicine, such as how to bill for visits.

4. Joy Baker, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Thomaston, Ga.-based Upson Regional Medical Center, also noticed this disparity. She often had to refer high-risk patients to specialists in Atlanta, an hour or more away from their homes. These patients often had trouble affording travel costs or getting time off work.

5. Now, the high-risk patients an the Thomaston-based office can connect with specialists in Atlanta via video consultation. Dr. Baker paid more than $15,000 for telemedicine equipment and upgraded the office's internet capabilities through a grant secured by the hospital.

"We really needed it, because of our population that we are serving and our remote location," Dr. Baker told The Wall Street Journal. "I want my patients to have the same thing they would have living in Atlanta."

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