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Health + Tech | Saving mother & child - Opportunities for reducing maternal and infant mortality, using health care technology

Published:Sunday | December 10, 2017 | 12:20 PMDoug Halsall

Health sectors across developed and developing countries have long struggled with making improvements to infant and maternal health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) for example, indicates that approximately 830 women die each day from preventable illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth with 99 per cent of these being in developing countries.

Worldwide these two indices are very high. For many lower socio-economic groups the problem is access to health care services. 

Jamaica is fortunate in that there is a no user fees policy and so there is no financial barrier to health care. However physical access is prohibitive to some persons who cannot afford surrounding costs such as transportation and food and in some cases medication.

The WHO indicates that to a large extent, poor maternal and child health have to do with inadequate access to health care services. In Jamaica’s case, health education also plays a major role.

The Ministry of Health has long been seeking to improve infant and maternal mortality rates which have been stagnant for years. A few years ago the Programme for the Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality (PROMAC) was implemented to address this.

The 2016 Jamaica Economic and Social Survey indicates that during the period 2012 to 2016 the infant mortality rate has not moved from 16.7 per 1000 live births and the maternal mortality rate remained at 94.4 per 100,000.

A major problem the health sector has faced is women not visiting clinics early enough and consistently during pregnancy. Several interventions are obviously needed to tackle this problem. Taking health care directly to communities could lead to a major reduction in these numbers.

The key to improving the maternal and infant mortality rates is to ensure that pregnant women take care of themselves and later take care of their newborns by providing the mothers with the tools to do so.

 A woman, for example, who lives in a deep rural community and finds it difficult to routinely access a clinic would benefit from the combination of a mobile app, remote care management and a mobile clinic.

The patient app, which is now available with the Medical Practice Management and the Hospital Information Management Systems will ensure that she has consistent health education information and tips on care of mother and child.

The app can also be used to give information on when to seek medical help as well as provide audiovisual access to a health professional from home or wherever she may be through telemedicine.

Her electronic medical record and health history collected and consolidated through the systems could provide information to a physician on any risk factors she may have and special care required during pregnancy and after childbirth.

The remote care management tools such as those provided by DynoSense allow for the woman to consistently check health indices so that issues like heightened blood pressure are quickly caught and effectively managed.

Remote care management tools can be interfaced with the systems and provide the physician with daily updated readings on the patient as well as day-to-day, week-to-week and month to month data analysis.

The mobile clinic would take all of this information for use during a physical examination and consultation with the woman and child. With the support of the mentioned health tools, a mobile clinic could be scheduled for a hard to reach rural community once each month.

Even if not fully staffed, that is, if a doctor is not available to travel with the clinic on every occasion, consultations can be done remotely through the telemedicine platform. This would ensure that scarce resources are used efficiently. The mobile clinic would also facilitate immunisation for children in the target communities.

Although the focus here is using technology to improve maternal and child health, this approach can be generalised to reach persons who may find it difficult to visit a health centre or hospital far from their community and who may need customised and consistent care for certain illnesses.

- Doug Halsall is the chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems.

Feedback:  Doug.halsall@gmail.com or editorial@gleanerjm.com