“This has been the largest implementation of telehealth into antenatal care yet introduced globally, and this program has already gone on to inform the introduction of similar programs internationally, including national recommendations in Brazil.” – Associate Professor Kirsten Palmer
An ambitious project using digital health to provide equitable and improved care to pregnant women across the country is being led by our very own Head of Maternal Fetal Medicine, Associate Professor Kirsten Palmer.
Building on the success of telehealth integrated antenatal care developed and implemented since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, A/Prof Palmer and her team are confident digital technologies can be used to enhance flexibility and personalisation in pregnancy care.
“Utilising some digital health components can provide significant benefits for women in reducing the demand antenatal care can have on their time, resources, and the costs involved with attending hospital appointments.
“It can also provide them with more flexibility when they access care and information about their pregnancy,” says A/Prof Palmer, who also heads the Maternal and Perinatal Medicine Translational research group in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Monash University.
With over 96% of people in Australia having access to smartphones or the Internet, providing care this way reduces the barriers that can sometimes exist in obtaining pregnancy care, particularly improving accessibility for women living in outer Melbourne or rural areas.
The Enhanced Pregnancy Care program, supported by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Assessment of High-Cost Gene Treatments and Digital Health Interventions grant of close to $750,000, will be carried out over the next four years.
A/Prof Palmer’s team will implement the next phase of the Enhanced Pregnancy Care program across Monash Health’s four maternity hospital sites: Monash Medical Centre, Dandenong Hospital, Casey Hospital and Sandringham Hospital.
This phase will include an Australian first – a digital platform to enhance clinical workflow, consumer engagement and data integration.
This clinician and patient-facing platform will complement the team’s telehealth-integrated antenatal care with an electronic medical record capable of enhancing clinical risk prediction and evidence-based guideline incorporation and a linked patient portal to support the entry of patient-reported metrics.
“This project will be the first comprehensive approach to redeveloping antenatal care for the 21st century in Australia.
“On completion, we anticipate we will have achieved meaningful advances in pregnancy care delivery through the integration of digital technologies that assist healthcare providers to deliver better personalised, evidence-based care, as well as better enable healthcare consumers to be active participants in their pregnancy care and achieve more timely engagement with health services,” A/Prof Palmer says.
The success of this project will be measured through improvements in clinical outcomes, healthcare utilisation, and consumer satisfaction with the care received.
A/Prof Palmer says the significance of this finding in Victoria’s largest maternity care provider is evidence of the impressive achievements that can be gained in a publicly funded Australian setting. If this project succeeds, the Enhanced Pregnancy Care program would be considered for statewide and national implementation through partnerships with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Victorian government.
“Monash Health delivers 1 in 7 Victorian babies and serves a culturally and linguistically diverse community, meaning our health service can produce findings that will likely be broadly relevant across a diverse range of Australian healthcare settings and beyond,” she says.
Her team already has a proven track record in their capacity and capability to deliver digital health programs, as evidenced in the development and implementation of telehealth-integrated antenatal care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This has been the largest implementation of telehealth into antenatal care yet introduced globally, and this program has already gone on to inform the introduction of similar programs internationally, including national recommendations in Brazil,” A/Prof Palmer says.
She believes that digital tools have the potential to reduce disparities in access to health care and the negative impacts of poor social determinants of health by improving the coordination and delivery of personalised, high-quality healthcare.
“An example is using computerised clinical decision support systems to improve patient care through optimising clinician compliance with best-practice clinical guidelines. Healthcare outcomes can vary across services, and utilising digital tools to enhance clinicians’ access to best practice care will maximise all women’s ability to access high-quality maternity care.
“Furthermore, combining such approaches with the power of machine learning could further improve our ability to predict which women are most at risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes,” she adds.
“In achieving this and reducing complications in pregnancy, this will also help to reduce the exponential and unsustainable rise in the costs of pregnancy care in Australia.”
In celebration of Women’s Health Week from 05-11 September 2023, we will be celebrating stories such as this to highlight researchers whose work is making significant strides in improving women’s health and well-being.