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Confronting maternal health disparities: “We need to think like women”

Although the U.S. spends a higher percentage of gross domestic product on healthcare than any other nation, it is the only high-resource, high-income country with a consistently rising maternal mortality rate. For those of us in healthcare, it’s well known that maternal health disparities stand in dire need of correction; yet, at times, tackling the various contributing factors might seem insurmountable. Even as a physician, I found it difficult to navigate my own pregnancy and postpartum period. I had complications that I did not anticipate, including two hospitalizations for surgical complications after my c-section. Through it all, I struggled to feel heard and understood by my doctor, my own colleague. I realized that if this journey could be overwhelming for a healthcare provider, it could be for anyone. As a system, we need to do everything we can to learn from, engage, and empower maternity patients – and ultimately, improve their outcomes.

Recently, our president and chief marketing officer, Dawn Whaley, joined the Wellstar Foundation’s Women of Wellstar to discuss the impact of maternal health disparities within Sharecare’s home state of Georgia, as well as our call to change it collectively. As Dawn explained it, no matter where or how you contribute to the healthcare ecosystem, the first step is simple and clear: We need to think like women.

From my perspective, one of the most powerful ways we can tap this insight is by utilizing new technologies to find and engage their voices meaningfully and understand their lived experiences. To advance this effort, Sharecare recently joined forces with Scripps Research Digital Trials Center to build the most comprehensive and diverse research community of organizations across healthcare, technology, patient advocacy, and community-based services in hopes of generating the critical data and insights that will guide maternity patients and their care teams toward healthier pregnancies and healthier beginnings for babies.

In this venture, Sharecare’s Smart Omix research platform for real-world evidence and data collection will enable researchers to develop digital biomarkers with the power of artificial intelligence to track maternal health conditions such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and postpartum depression. Historically, clinical trials and medical research have lacked diversity, giving rise to medical innovations that serve limited populations while too often disserving others. It’s reflected in today’s sobering maternal mortality rates: As one example, in 2019, pregnancy-related mortality impacted Black and Indigenous women at 2-3 times the rate of their White counterparts, according to a CDC estimate.

With Smart Omix (available for early access to research teams), we’re using what Jeff Arnold, our chairman and CEO, calls “one of our most accessible, ubiquitous healthcare devices” – the smartphone – to reach pre- and post-partum individuals with a new generation of interventions that take care quality to a new height. What’s even more promising is that this new venture lets us achieve it with the help of our partners at the renowned medical research institute Scripps.

While our efforts represent a positive step, they are just one element of a multifaceted, innovative, and cross-functional response needed to address maternal health disparities. With the combined impact of others, such as those to recruit more OB/GYNs into rural communities, we’re optimistic for better futures for growing families across the US.

As passionate as I am about women’s and maternal health, it’s one of limitless areas of health and well-being where we can become “all together better.” With the aggregate power of our amazing partners, talent, tech stack, data capabilities, clinical expertise, and so much more, we have reason for great hope in our pursuit of greater care experiences and outcomes for every population.