Prenatal Care Through an App

Cutting-edge program may revolutionize an industry

Health and fitness apps are all over the place. Market researchers now estimate there are more than 100,000 apps dedicated to health — more than twice the 2014 numbers — and the market has reached a staggering $4 billion in net worth. It could be worth as much as $26 billion in coming years.

Under the umbrella of health apps, pregnancy apps are the second-largest category. One study out this spring from the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that 55 percent of pregnant women used multiple apps related to pregnancy, birth, and child care.

About 55 percent of pregnant women use multiple apps related to pregnancy, birth, and childcare.

These women — mostly first-time moms with smartphones — relied on the apps for information about their child’s development and used them to regulate signs of disease or pregnancy risk. Most often, the women trusted the question and answer sections of the apps to help them make decisions about their diet and medications.

But with the number of pregnancy apps soaring, it can be difficult for women to know which ones contain trustworthy information. WebMD Pregnancy has a “Pregnancy 101” section written and reviewed by doctors. My Pregnancy Today from BabyCenter has numerous first-person accounts from women about their birth experiences — from natural births to C-sections. Other apps like Pregnancy ++, BabyBump Pro, and mPregnancy have to-do lists and week-by-week explanations about a baby’s development. However, some of the information on these apps is vague in its recommendations and the sources are either unclear or non-medical — or both.

One app in particular is aiming to change all this by connecting patients with the most trusted source of information: their doctor. Anish Sebastian and Juan Pablo Segura co-founded Babyscripts in connection with a team of obstetricians at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., so that clinicians could have remote access to their patients.

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Babyscripts upends the traditional model of pregnancy apps by making the doctor — not the patient — the customer. Although the app helps pregnant women, the doctor makes the decision on whether or not to purchase the program for patients.

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Babyscripts equips each patient with a “Mommy Kit,” a pink box that contains a WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuff and scale that have all been Food and Drug Administration-approved. The app is structured like a to-do list; it tells the patient to take her blood pressure and measure her weight each week. It also contains a Q&A section that is personalized and approved by the patient’s doctor. For low-risk pregnancies, a lot of the regular checkups at the obstetrician involve similar procedures — taking blood pressure, tracking weight, answering questions.

Doctors are immediately alerted when any of the data register as abnormal. Tracking the info remotely saves the patient from having to take time off work to get to appointments — not to mention the waiting room lines. And because patients often go four or six weeks between appointments, the app allows doctors to keep even closer tabs on patients in case something goes wrong.

“Our research shows patients are comfortable with being remotely monitored and are more satisfied with their doctors’ care,” said Juan Pablo Segura. “They feel connected and know that if anything is off, their doctor will be notified.”

The app is structured like a to-do list: The patient takes her blood pressure and measures her weight each week.

A number of serious pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, have been connected to abnormal shifts in blood pressure and weight. Babyscripts has already shown it can be effective at identifying these developments from afar. “Not a lot of services can say that they’ve saved lives — and we have,” Segura told LifeZette. “It’s a great motivation to go to work every day.”

The app has been tried and tested successfully in a number of hospital systems, including Aurora Health Care in Wisconsin, MedStar in Washington, D.C., and Florida Hospital in Orlando. The company is the only pregnancy mobile app to have partnerships with the March of Dimes and General Electric. By the end of this year, more than 3,000 patients will be using the system, and the company plans to expand enough to bring on 30,000 new patients across the U.S.

Babyscripts could be a promising development on the pregnancy research horizon as well. One of the long-term goals of the company is to demystify pregnancy complications in which the causes are sometimes unclear, such as miscarriage. “We’re collecting 20 to 30 times more data than has ever been collected on pregnancy,” Segura said. “We use the data to try to look for trends. There’s so much we can do with the data and channel that we’ve built.”

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Although the program caters to low-risk pregnancies at this point, Segura said it plans to establish enough trust with doctors in order to expand to helping high-risk pregnancies as well. The company is also planning to add devices such as a glucometer to the kit to improve the remote monitoring.

Related: Mom Knows Best About Baby

As far as pregnancy apps go, Babyscripts is in a league of its own. “We’re the most recognized and validated clinical app in the category,” Segura said. The doctors who have worked with it at George Washington said it’s at the forefront of health technology. And for the women in search of answers during their pregnancy — there is finally an option that connects them directly to their obstetrician.

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