Atlanta OB/GYN office merges technology and medicine to expand maternity care

Moms-to-be can transition to virtual appointments after 20 weeks

Moms-to-be can monitor their vitals and attend virtual appointments with their doctor from the comfort of their own house, thanks to a program by Northside Women’s Specialists.

Launched as a pilot program last year, Virtual Obstetrics accommodates a hybrid schedule, with the first appointments — until 20 weeks — in person, then transitioning into virtual appointments until the last month of pregnancy.

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The virtual OB program comes with a blood pressure cuff, scale and a HeraBEAT fetal heart rate doppler, as well as a personalized app that helps you track your pregnancy and offers educational articles by the Mayo Clinic. Through this program, patients are required to upload their data once a week.

Local mom Stephanie Berrier participated in the program and gave birth to her second child in May.

“I never felt like I was uncared for. In fact, if anything, because I was uploading data about my health every single week, you’re being monitored actually more closely,” Berrier told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They’re getting more data points about your health and tracking your blood pressure and fetal heart rate and so forth even more frequently. So, for me, it just fit my life. It was very easy to do.”

The virtual program allows seamless appointments without the hassle of traffic, scheduling to leave work early and waiting in your doctor’s office. However, if mothers wanted to meet in-person for a previously scheduled virtual appointment, the program easily allows for this change.

“Generally, patients are scheduled for a 15-minute visit in the office. So, that includes getting checked in, getting put in a room, weights and measurements and then we have a few minutes where they can ask me questions,” Dr. Jill Purdie, OB/GYN and medical director at Northside Women’s Specialists, part of Pediatrix Medical Group, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I think the advantage of this for those telehealth visits is they’ve already done all of that at home. And so, when they have a 15-minute telehealth visit they really have 15 minutes with me, and they can ask all their questions and everything that they want answered”

Anytime a mother takes their vital signs, that data is uploaded to their doctor’s dashboard to be monitored in real time. Additionally, moms can record their child’s heartbeat and send it to their loved ones through text, and they can listen to their child’s heartbeat when they want. This unique feature was Berrier’s favorite part of the program.

“I liked being able to hear my baby’s heartbeat myself at home whenever I wanted to. So, I had to do it at least weekly, but I could do it more frequently,” Berrier said. “I had a family member who was sick, and I wasn’t able to see them, but I could send them (a recording of my child’s heartbeat) and they could listen to it.”

The virtual OB program doesn’t stop at birth, either. Mothers are switched to a postpartum care plan, where they chart their vitals and emotional health after giving birth. Through this, their doctor can track if their patients may be affected by postpartum depression.

“If (patients) have a low mood score, the application automatically prompts them to do a formal depression screen,” Purdie said. “So embedded within the application is an approved depression screening, and then that will alert me if it comes over as a dashboard an abnormal score. And then we reach out to those patients and have them come in.”

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While this was Berrier’s second pregnancy, this was her first experience with the virtual OB program. She said she felt she knew more closely what was happening to her and her child. If given the choice, she said she would go through the program again and recommends it to other moms-to-be.

“If your doctor offers (this program), you can always start it and, if you just feel like it’s not working for you, you can always go back into the normal routine,” Berrier said. “And even though you’re in a virtual program, I always felt that I had standard appointments. I had good, dedicated time with my doctors to be able to ask them questions. So, I think just knowing that there’s flexibility is just a nice evolution of care for pregnant moms.”

Currently, the program at Northside Women’s Specialist enrolls low-risk women who are otherwise healthy individuals and who nave no significant medical issues. In the next few years, Purdie said she hopes this program expands beyond their practice.

“I would hope that this is something that you can offer to all pregnant women … because it seems like as we move forward as a whole community, technology is going to be part of that,” Purdie said.

“Ideally, we would love to be able to reach people who have limited access,” she added. “Currently, our pilot is not doing that. It’s only patients that are already coming to our practice, but we would love to be able to use this technology to reach areas where people maybe don’t have the access or the ability to come to the doctor on a regular basis.”

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