Healthcare consultations and checkups have joined the remote-appointments world; and “telehealth” (along with “telemedicine”) is now a dictionary word. Through good audio-video connections, doctors can do many of the same things they do in person:
- Get details on how a patient looks and feels
- Check blood pressure, oxygen levels, and other measurements (patients are equipped with technology to take the numbers at home)
- Offer wellness advice
- Issue prescriptions
- Maintain privacy and confidentiality
And telehealth saves patients the inconvenience (and additional health risks) of visiting a crowded doctor’s office for every sniffle, rash, and routine checkup.
Today, we look at telehealth for prenatal care, to commemorate January as Birth Defects Awareness Month (aka an official month to learn about congenital disabilities and the people who live with them, and to promote healthy pregnancies).
Expectant Mothers and the Doctor’s Office
After a pregnancy is diagnosed, standard medical advice is to visit an obstetrician every 4 weeks (every 1–2 weeks during the third trimester) so the doctor can stay in the loop and catch potential problems early. Too many mothers, especially in low-income or remote areas, rarely see a doctor during pregnancy—and too many of their babies are born with health problems that could have been prevented. (See “Why do I need prenatal care?” on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “prenatal care” page.)
Conversely, some medical experts are becoming concerned about scheduling more appointments than needed. Going in every 2–4 weeks uses up time; is often stressful; and risks exposure to contagious illness in a waiting-room environment. Prenatal telehealth is one way to avoid many of these issues and still check in frequently with the doctor.
What about High-Risk Pregnancies?
Of course, everyone needs “hands-on” medical treatment at times. Especially when serious health concerns are involved, such as “high-risk” pregnancies with elevated chances of miscarriage, stillbirth, or congenital disability. A pregnancy may be “high-risk” if:
- Either parent’s family has a history of intellectual/developmental or genetic disabilities.
- The mother has lost earlier pregnancies to miscarriage, abortion, or stillbirth.
- A pregnancy involves multiple fetuses, especially identical children with a shared placenta.
- The mother is over 40 years old.
- The mother is over- or underweight.
- The mother has a chronic health condition.
- The mother contracts an illness during pregnancy.
- The mother has a “negative” blood type and the unborn child a “positive.”
- The mother lives or works in a high-pollution environment.
- The mother takes certain medications or has a history of chemical abuse. (A pregnancy is always high-risk if the mother takes non-medicinal chemicals, even occasional alcoholic drinks.)
Higher-risk circumstances needn’t rule out the telemedicine option, but it’s always wise to ask your doctor about the best approach to your situation.
The Prenatal Telehealth Checkup
If the doctor clears you for remote appointments, best practices are the same as for any health-and-wellness checkup:
- Know how to operate health-monitoring technology (e.g., blood pressure cuffs and fetal-monitoring wearables).
- Test remote connections in advance, to be certain they work smoothly.
- Set up your computer in a private, well-lit environment.
- Make sure there is no “backlighting” effect obscuring your monitor image. More than any other digital contact, a doctor needs to see you clearly.
- A high-resolution camera and large monitor will further ensure a good view for the doctor.
- Make an advance list of any questions you have. Put it in digital form in case you need to paste it into Chat.
- Wear loose clothing so you can easily access or show any part of your body.
- Log in early, especially if this is your first time on a connection. Patients who arrive in a last-minute rush tend to get flustered and forget which button does what.
- If a concern surfaces, rein in your imagination and listen to the real facts. Make a point of staying calm and clearheaded at all times.
(See also our page on Digital House Calls training.)
Finally, no pregnancy is so “low-risk” that unanticipated things can’t happen. If your preborn or recently born child is diagnosed with a disability, don’t let panic, denial, or impulse get the best of you. Take a deep breath, and seek next-steps advice from a therapist as well as your doctor.
If developmental problems might occur, look into Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) options as soon as possible. Easter Seals Greater Houston offers ECI services for children up to three years old, preparing them for effective, positive lives. Services include developmental evaluation, speech therapy, skills training, and family education.