Health

Cutting-edge app could shrink state's high maternal death rate

AUSTIN (KXAN) - An app that links pregnant women directly to their doctors could shrink the number of Texas mothers who die during and after birth.

And more Texas doctors are asking for it so they can focus on high-risk pregnancies.

Sarah Nicholson recently learned the gender of her second baby. "I'm having a girl again," she said with a smile as she swiped on her smartphone.

The expectant mother has been able to track everything throughout this pregnancy, including her blood pressure. She does it through a blood pressure cuff with Bluetooth capabilities linked to an app called Babyscripts.

The app sends all of her real-time medical information straight to her doctor. If anything goes wrong, her obstetrician can call immediately.

"I'm a little bit of a 'type-A' personality and I feel like I have more control over my health and pregnancy," said Nicholson, who is in her second trimester. "It just gives me the peace of mind that if I'm having a headache, I'll take my blood pressure to make sure nothing is off track."

One of the app's creators says more Texas doctors want Babyscripts for their high-risk patients because it can continue tracking a woman's health after she has given birth. 

By answering a few online questions, the app can do a quick postpartum screening. 

"We're able to connect the patient to a mental health counselor or other professionals that could help them get over the complications after their delivery," said co-creator Juan Pablo Segura. 

Doctors believe that the instant checkup could help them reverse the state's maternal death rate, which is one of the highest in the nation. Giving birth is particularly fatal for low income and women of color, according to the state's Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force.

Segura says his team is focusing on getting the app to Austin doctors, who would give it to patients free of charge. Right now in Texas, only doctors in Houston have the app. 

"If we can detect problems faster and get patients the help they need in a much more urgent manner, we're saving lives," he said.

Segura said something else that could help doctors reach more high-risk expectant mothers: changing state laws.

In August, lawmakers voted to expand telemedicine across the state, allowing patients to chat with doctors through their computer, phone or tablet without making a trip to the clinic.

Currently, the app is provided mostly by doctors and some insurance companies.

Segura wants state lawmakers to take more action and offer reimbursements for doctors who treat patients virtually. 

"Right now, it's a very tight box in Texas," he said. "If we can open up the reimbursement to allow doctors to be more innovative, I think they're going to have an opportunity to save lives."

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