“What we found is that babies do better in a home environment,” she says. “The program gave parents the ability to see that they could do this and were making the right decisions.”
Initial research presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics reveals that the at-home infant monitoring program can save up to eight days per hospital patient, a benefit that cuts costs for both patients and hospitals, allows parents to be with their children earlier and frees up space in the NICU for more urgent cases.
Since its inception in 2018, the program’s technology has evolved. Parents now use the Locus Health app on their smartphones, although families who need them are still provided iPad devices by the hospital.
The program has expanded to include infants who need complex care or who have blood pressure issues, and postpartum care for parents. “Next, the program will be moving to patients undergoing transplants or dealing with cystic fibrosis,” Vergales says.
Telehealth's Benefits for Patients and Providers
Mayo Clinic’s OB Nest, one of the earliest telehealth programs for obstetrical care, started in 2011, says Dr. Jennifer Bantz, medical director of inpatient obstetrics and gynecology in northwest Wisconsin. The program has since expanded to the entire Mayo Clinic Health System, including in Bantz’s home base of Eau Claire, Wis.
“Typically, we have 110 to 115 active OB Nest patients in Eau Claire enrolled at a time,” Bantz says. “This is a great program for low-risk obstetrical patients.”
Bantz says she has found high patient satisfaction with the program. Not only can patients skip a long commute, but they can also involve their entire families in their appointments if they choose, and older siblings love to help find the baby’s heartbeat, she adds.
“I have had virtual visits while our patients are at home folding the laundry, doing dishes, at their lake house, while on vacation or while at work,” Bantz says.
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Dr. Nathaniel DeNicola, the chair of the ACOG’s committee on telehealth for nearly five years, has seen how telehealth has improved prenatal care as a practitioner and a researcher.
“Several well-regarded studies show that after their first appointment, at least half of patients would consider telehealth appointments on a regular basis. For physicians, the reaction is the same,” DeNicola says.
Providers appreciate telehealth because the modality helps them both increase their interaction with patients and better manage their time.
“Frankly, patients get more time for a follow-up phone call when it’s a structured telehealth visit, whether it’s with video or audio only,” DeNicola says. “The doctor can spend more time with the patient and get more questions answered.”
Prenatal Care Goes Virtual With Telehealth
Prenatal telehealth programs have mostly similar structures, involving take-home equipment such as blood pressure cuffs and fetal heart rate monitors along with a secure portal to conduct remote visits.
Mayo Clinic’s OB Nest program employs experienced nursing staff members to oversee telehealth appointments. Patients receive a blood pressure cuff and a fetal Doppler to monitor the baby’s heart rate at home. Appointments are set up through the patient portal, where they can also communicate with the program’s nurses.
For virtual appointments, “patients are asked to send in their vital signs: blood pressure, heart rate, fetal heart rate and weight,” Bantz says. “The nurses record this information and send educational information through the portal.”
Remote monitoring of pregnant patients increased drastically when the pandemic began. All pregnant patients used the Mayo Clinic’s patient portal for visits. Clinicians then had secure virtual visits over Zoom.