UAMS to test telehealth to improve death rate rural pregnant women

Health News

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) say they will use a $228,000 federal grant to test telehealth as a way to improve Arkansas’s death rate among pregnant women.

UAMS officials say Arkansas ranks fifth when it comes to the death rate among pregnant women.

According to a news release sent by UAMS on Tuesday, the research team led by Hari Eswaran, Ph.D. will focus on remote health monitoring of pregnant women in rural areas with limited access to health providers or resources.

UAMS officials say the goal is to see if remote health monitoring can improve care for rural pregnant women with high blood pressure.

UAMS says the one-year grant is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).

UAMS officials say the funding was awarded as a supplement to UAMS’ NCATS-funded Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA).

According to the news release, Laura James, M.D., is the principal investigator of the CTSA and director of the UAMS Translational Research Institute whose work is supported by the five-year, $24.2 million award UL1 TR003107.

Statistics show Arkansas has 44.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births annually. Officials say the national average is 29.6 deaths.

UAMS officials say the team will recruit 50 pregnant women to test whether patient care can be improved using the combined systems of:

  • Telemedicine via interactive video with UAMS maternal-fetal specialists
  • Remote health monitoring, like blood pressure rates shared electronically from participants’ homes
  • The UAMS Institute for Digital Health & Innovation Call Center. Officials say the study’s remote patient monitoring system will become part of the institute’s existing rural telemedicine clinic and call center model for monitoring blood pressure in pregnancy.

“This is a critical health issue for us,” said Eswaran, a professor in the College of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “No other developed countries have maternal mortality rates as high as Arkansas, and we know that lack of access to care is a significant factor.”

According to the news release, severe maternal illness is on the rise in the United States, impacting about 52,000 pregnant women at delivery every year.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the severe maternal illness rate during delivery increased by almost 200% from 1993 to 2014. The increase is caused by increased rates of blood transfusion, acute kidney failure, respiratory distress syndrome and heart disease.

According to Eswaran, severe maternal illnesses are expected to continue to grow because women are becoming pregnant later in life, increasing pre-pregnancy obesity, pre-existing chronic medical conditions and cesarean deliveries.

Officials say rates are also much higher among minority women and women from rural areas.

Maternal death rates are higher for racial minorities and poorer populations, according to the news release.

“By identifying these at-risk women early in their pregnancy, we can potentially help provide timely medical care using telehealth technology,” Eswaran said. “This would help prevent illness and death, shorten hospital stays and reduce health care costs.”

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