Bridging Gaps: The Challenge of Maternal Health Care Access in the United States

January 23, 2024 | by Stephani Monhollon
Bridging Gaps: The Challenge of Maternal Health Care Access in the United States

While the United States boasts advanced medical facilities and a wealth of health care resources, a concerning issue persists — the lack of universal access to maternal health care. Despite medical advancements, not all expectant mothers in the U.S. enjoy equal access to quality maternal health care. Disparities are particularly pronounced among rural communities, leading to increased maternal mortality rates and adverse outcomes for both mothers and newborns.

In August 2023, March of Dimes released, "Where You Live Matters: Maternity Care Deserts and the Crisis of Access and Equity," a collection of 52 in-depth reports that explores various aspects of maternity care and analyzes factors influencing access to care, health outcomes and distinct challenges for families in every U.S. state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Identifying many areas nationwide as "maternity care deserts," counties with limited to no access to labor and delivery facilities or obstetric care, the organization's research found that more than 5.6 million women and nearly 350,000 births are affected by the access and equity crisis.

A good example is Colorado, along with its adjacent states Wyoming and Nebraska, all of which face geographic challenges that can limit access to obstetrical care in general and high-risk care in particular.

"All women should have access to quality prenatal care regardless of social and economic situation or geographic location," said Oliver Jones, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialist with Obstetrix® of Colorado, part of Pediatrix® Medical Group. "Our job is to ensure the well-being of mothers and babies not only for the benefit of the patients but also for society as a whole."

OBGYNs and MFM Specialists as Advocates for Change

It's a complex challenge, yet obstetricians and gynecologists (OBGYNs) and MFM specialists continue the crucial battle of improving maternal health outcomes and finding ways to reach those most vulnerable to health care disparities.

OBGYNs stand at the forefront of maternal health care. Beyond delivering babies, they serve as advocates for improved access, education and support. They also play a pivotal role in identifying and addressing the barriers that hinder equitable access to prenatal care and maternal health services.

MFM specialists bring a specialized focus to high-risk pregnancies. Their expertise is invaluable in managing complex medical conditions that can complicate pregnancy, offering advanced diagnostics, monitoring and interventions to enhance outcomes for both mothers and babies.

Telemedicine: A Ray of Hope

In recent years, the landscape of health care has undergone a revolutionary transformation, with telemedicine emerging as a key player in providing accessible and convenient medical services. One area that has significantly benefited from this shift is women's health care, particularly OBGYN and MFM services. Telemedicine has bridged geographical gaps, improved accessibility and transformed the patient experience in these crucial fields.

Pediatrix Medical Group plays a pivotal role in increasing patient accessibility to MFM care through its TeleMFM services. Its network of highly skilled MFM specialists helps ensure that expectant mothers facing high-risk pregnancies can conveniently access quality care regardless of geographical constraints. The group employs a collaborative approach, integrating MFM expertise into a broader framework of obstetric care. This ensures seamless communication and coordination among health care providers, optimizing the management of complex maternal and fetal conditions. Through secure video conferencing, patients receive personalized consultations, guidance and collaborative management plans, fostering a comprehensive approach to high-risk pregnancies.

"TeleMFM is a service that enables access to high-risk pregnant mothers," said Christina Bell, senior director of Telehealth and DPE Ambulatory Operations for Pediatrix Medical Group. "The telehealth component of care creates a broader reach to rural areas and maternal deserts and provides greater equity and access to care nationally for those in need of these critical services."

Accessibility Beyond Boundaries

One of the most significant advantages of telemedicine in women's health care is the elimination of geographical barriers. Expectant mothers or women in need of specialized care can now connect with their health care providers without the constraints of distance. This is particularly impactful in rural or underserved areas where access to specialized health care services may be limited.

Prenatal Care from the Comfort of Home

Telemedicine has made it possible for pregnant women to receive essential prenatal care from the comfort of their homes. Routine check-ups, monitoring fetal development and discussing any concerns can be efficiently managed through virtual consultations. This not only reduces the need for frequent travel, especially in high-risk pregnancies, but also promotes a more relaxed and patient-friendly experience.

Timely Consultations and Monitoring

For women facing high-risk pregnancies or dealing with complex medical conditions, telemedicine facilitates timely consultations and continuous monitoring. MFM specialists can remotely assess critical parameters, provide guidance and collaborate with local health care providers to ensure comprehensive and timely care.

Improved Patient Engagement and Education

Telemedicine empowers patients by providing them with educational resources and enabling more active participation in their health care journey. OBGYN and MFM patients can access online materials, attend virtual workshops and engage in telehealth visits that foster a deeper understanding of their conditions and treatment plans.

Enhancing Postpartum Care

Beyond pregnancy, telemedicine plays a crucial role in postpartum care, allowing health care providers to monitor mothers' recovery, address concerns promptly and provide necessary guidance. This is especially beneficial in the early weeks when new mothers may face challenges and have questions about postpartum well-being.

Streamlining Collaborative Care

Telemedicine facilitates seamless collaboration among health care professionals involved in a patient's care. OBGYNs, MFMs, primary care physicians and other specialists can easily share information, discuss treatment plans and ensure a comprehensive approach to women's health.

A New Era in Women's Health Care

The integration of telemedicine in women's health care practices has ushered in a new era of accessibility, convenience and patient-centered care. As technology continues to advance, the possibilities for improving women's health care through remote services are boundless, promising a future where every woman can access specialized care when and where she needs it.

"Telemedicine extends health care access to more women," said Dr. Jones. "This technology allows my practice to provide face-to-face real-time consultation in conjunction with ultrasound evaluation of the fetus. It enhances the patient experience by providing timely visits and personalized care that often eliminates lengthy travel. This ensures that every expecting mother receives the attention and expertise she deserves, regardless of her geographical location."