Digitalisation is a hot topic in maternity healthcare right now. Although digital technologies have been improving service provision for decades, systemic and structural digitalisation has been slow. Considerable effort went into digitising records and creating digital databases. But, like much of the wider healthcare sector, digital technology that optimises workflows, maximises the value of clinical data, and connects medical professionals, was not widely implemented.
However, that is changing. Increasingly, maternity departments are looking to digital solutions to improve care, reduce risk and develop more efficient processes. In this article, we examine eight key ideas driving maternity technology development. These are areas in which maternity healthcare solutions can make a significant impact and where technology providers must focus if they are to create value-driven solutions that meet the needs of maternity teams.
1. The end of fragmented data
Maternity care involves a diverse range of healthcare professionals, many of whom operate in different healthcare environments. As a result, communication and collaboration between care providers is difficult. In some cases, parts of the maternity care system have limited interaction, even when caring for the same patient.
Historically, patient record data was fragmented and disconnected. Sharing information and connecting disparate data sources was difficult due to technical, structural and legal challenges. Information collected in one clinical setting was not necessarily passed on to others, resulting in an incomplete picture of a woman’s progression through pregnancy.
Today, digital maternity healthcare solutions, such as Omda Partus, are bringing an end to fragmented maternity data and helping to connect the various aspects of maternity care. By creating a centralised data management system that acts as a single point of truth and through which all maternity professionals input data, healthcare systems benefit from greater insight into a pregnant woman’s condition.
One of the advantages of this type of system is that maternity departments generate a more detailed account of the care provided. But this also translates to reduced risk to the woman and baby. By collecting extensive structured data and making it readily available for analysis, maternity solutions support evidence-based clinical decision-making and play a key role in risk assessment.
2. Acknowledging early care has a long-term impact
In many ways, maternity care differs significantly from other types of healthcare provision. The most significant distinction is that pregnancy is not an illness, nor is the care provided a “treatment.” As a result, there should be a fundamental shift in how we approach maternity care. Reactive “treatment” measures (i.e. waiting until something is “wrong” to intervene) are inadequate. Proactive, positive and preventative care is essential.
The more data we collect, the better our insight into an individual’s condition early in their pregnancy. Currently, the amount of maternity data we collect tends to balloon as the service user progresses through pregnancy. We gather relatively little in the early stages. But the number of data points grows rapidly as we move down the maternity timeline.
By gathering more early-stage information (via self-monitoring, better-connected systems, and cloud-based service platforms for expectant mothers like Omda iPana Maternity), we improve our ability to prevent pregnancy complications. But we also empower maternity departments to deliver positive and proactive care that puts women in the best possible place for their pregnancy.
3. Data entry is not just an afterthought
Comprehensive and accurate clinical data is critical to high-quality care. Maternity departments already collect a vast amount of data. But this will likely increase as hospitals implement new maternity and pregnancy healthcare technologies and introduce more powerful data solutions.
The ability to view, manage and analyse data quickly and efficiently is essential for clinicians. Many maternity solutions focus exclusively on these three factors. In doing so, they overlook data entry. Streamlined and efficient data entry mechanisms are just as important in the modern healthcare environment as analytical features.
Under-pressure midwives, nurses and doctors must be able to enter data quickly and intuitively at the point of care. In the past, data management systems have failed to streamline these workflows, resulting in interfaces that require healthcare professionals to enter information across several complex and cluttered screens.
Modern maternity healthcare solutions must empower medical professionals and assist them in doing their job in the most effective way possible. Too many systems over-complicate data entry, resulting in interfaces that frustrate users and slow data collection and care provision. With this in mind, solution providers must carefully consider data entry mechanisms and how frontline healthcare professionals interact with the software.
4. Going beyond clinical support solutions
While clinical support is most maternity solutions’ primary function, there is no reason to limit their application. The data gathered within these systems is valuable in more ways than one. For instance, hospitals can utilise the data to improve ward management and resource allocation.
Omda Fertsoft is an excellent example. While the solution fulfils a clinical support role by helping specialists determine and optimise fertility treatments, it also performs several administrative and business functions. From something as simple as invoicing and payment to the complexities of batch tracking, inventory organisation and supply chain management, it provides a holistic overview of the entire clinic.
Omda Partus also excels in this respect. Hospitals using the system extract clinical data to inform ward management decisions and ensure the department can provide the best care possible. From anticipating surges in birth numbers to organising targeted training to improve performance, the system is a valuable maternity ward management tool.
Data solutions also have a role to play in facilitating research and progressing our understanding of maternity care. Historically, we have not had access to maternity data on anywhere near as large a scale as today. For researchers requiring large sample sizes, this data is invaluable. However, software providers must design maternity solutions to facilitate this research by enabling simple data sharing and export and allowing for versatile integrations.
5. Visual analysis is remarkably valuable
Numerical data is not easy to interpret. While it provides necessary detail when looking deeper into expectant mothers’ conditions, maternity care and ward performance, it does not always permit quick analysis. This is why visual aids and graphic representations are so important. They provide more immediate insight into care provision and pregnancy progression.
A wide range of medical professionals utilise modern maternity solutions. Some are comfortable with detailed statistical analysis. Others are not. Graphs, charts and visual models ensure accessible and intuitive ways of engaging with critical care data.
Crucially, visual models make identifying deviations from norms, patterns and trends easier, an important aspect of risk assessment. This can be further simplified using design features to alert healthcare professionals of risks or potential problems. Colour-coded highlighting systems are useful when identifying at-risk patients, while hospitals can use warning icons to deliver patient safety information and prompt action when pulling up information on particular patients.
However, healthcare technology providers must ensure these warning systems and visual tools are customisable and adaptable. Maternity teams need systems that adapt to their workflows, processes and standards. They do not want to be forced into changing their approach by a system that does not accommodate differences in working practices.
6. No more one-size-fits-all maternity healthcare solutions
Adaptability and versatility are necessary throughout the entire system. Many factors influence workplace practices. The physical layout of the clinic, workplace culture and individual healthcare professionals all determine how clinics and hospitals operate. In many cases, processes are conducted in a certain way because that is how it has always been done. It is as simple as that.
Maternity care is constantly evolving. In some parts of the field, most notably fertility, changes occur at a dizzying speed. As well as new research, best practices and technologies, the sector must also contend with regular updates to regulations. As such, any maternity solution that aims to provide ongoing value to pregnancy healthcare systems must also be adaptable, versatile and capable of evolving.
One of the main ways we can achieve this is by developing modular, customisable systems that enable hospitals and clinics to adjust their solution in response to emerging challenges. By incorporating greater customisation, solution providers future-proof their technology and ensure a return on the customer’s investment. Rather than standing still while the broader maternity sector progresses, customisable solutions help institutions adapt to change quickly and effectively.
Again, Omda Fertsoft demonstrates how this works in practice. When recent changes to donation regulations in Sweden added extra complexity to donation management and clinical processes in fertility clinics, the product team responded by adapting the solution’s donation module to accommodate the changes. This ensured customers remained compliant with the new regulations while also streamlining donation workflows.
7. Developing solutions in collaboration with frontline employees
This kind of product development is not possible if technology providers cannot work closely with customers and end-users. In maternity care, this means cooperating and collaborating with hospitals, clinics, municipalities and maternity healthcare professionals to identify areas where digital solutions can provide the most value.
As healthcare is such a fast-moving environment, technology providers must implement feedback mechanisms that enable customers to provide detailed and regular suggestions. While traditional support channels (the telephone, email, or online forms) are one such mechanism, they do not always allow for in-depth, focused dialogue.
Monthly, quarterly or semiannual meetings dedicated exclusively to product development, support and discussion are excellent forums for this type of conversation. Technology providers also need to encourage feedback from frontline healthcare professionals who use the solution day in and day out.
In large organisations, the customer and end-user are distinct groups, whose needs, aims and methodologies do not always align. Receiving input from both end-users and high-level decision-makers means technology providers can work towards a maternity solution that fulfils both groups’ needs. This ability to connect the various layers that comprise modern healthcare systems must become an intrinsic feature of all end-to-end healthcare solutions.
8. Including expectant mothers in their pregnancy healthcare
Finally, many maternity departments are looking for new ways to empower pregnant women and involve them more in their own pregnancy healthcare. In the past, communication with expectant mothers has not always been as clear or regular as it could be. This can leave them feeling concerned, uninformed and alienated. The problem is not necessarily poor communication from healthcare professionals. Instead, a lack of resources means extensive communication is neither practical nor prioritised.
Digital solutions can provide pregnant women with more information, offer an opportunity to play an active role in pregnancy care and provide valuable data that enhances the care they receive. Solutions like Omda iPana Maternity provide pregnant women with a digital platform through which they can enter home-monitoring data, access information about their care and seek advice.
Access to the data generated can improve risk assessment by providing more regular insight into a woman’s condition, reducing maternity departments’ reliance on data collected at clinics. This enables them to pick up on concerning developments at an early stage and minimises the risk of problems developing between clinic visits.
As we move forwards, many maternity departments are also looking to expand inclusion to encompass the wider family. Though care has traditionally focused on the expectant mother and baby, there is a case to be made that involving partners in pregnancy healthcare may strengthen the foundations on which the family is built.
The future of digital maternity healthcare solutions
Digital maternity healthcare solutions represent an enormous opportunity for hospitals, clinics and all organisations involved in delivering care. Never has there been more data available to support clinical decision-making, automate administrative processes, streamline workflows and reduce risks to expectant mothers.
However, maternity teams lack end-to-end digital solutions that enable them to benefit fully from this data. As these systems are implemented in healthcare settings, there must be an emphasis on selecting solutions that meet the needs of everyone participating in care provision. This includes pregnant women, midwives, nurses, doctors, specialists, administrators and managers. These solutions also need to adapt to the rapid pace of change in the maternity sector and the different ways of working we see across hospitals and clinics.
While digitalisation in maternity care is a complex and challenging topic to navigate, it is also a chance to implement long-term solutions that improve healthcare outcomes and processes for pregnant women, help medical professionals make informed, data-driven decisions and create more efficient workplaces. It is a remarkably exciting prospect.