Tech

Digital tools may ease inequities in maternal healthcare, report finds

It’ll all boil down to equity-centered design, according to the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

When you think of “digital health tools,” you might think of telehealth apps and patient portals—platforms that you only access when you’re in need of medical attention.

In reality, you’re likely using a digital health tool right now. Whether it’s a menstrual-tracking or fitness app, the text chain with your therapist, or even someone on TikTok giving advice about how to alleviate headaches—these are all examples of digital health tools that anyone with a phone can easily access.

For a lot of pregnant patients, these digital tools can go from being a crutch to being a lifeline. A March report from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, which surveyed 2,000 people who were pregnant in the past two years, found that 77% of respondents used digital tools to help with their mental health, appointment scheduling, ovulation tracking, and more.

These digital tools can massively improve the birthing experience. A 2024 study published in journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, cited in the report, found that virtual support from a doula was positively associated with “lower odds of cesarean birth and an improved birth experience.”

“Maternal health equity can be supported by digital transformation,” Heather Nelson, coauthor of the Deloitte report and a managing director at the Big Four accounting firm, told Healthcare Brew. “But we need to really be mindful that there is also a digital divide.”

Around a third of survey respondents who used these tools reported that their digital care teams rarely listened to their needs, believed what they were saying, or treated them fairly. These patients were also more likely to be Black or African American.

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The Deloitte report also found that Black, mixed-race, and Hispanic/Latino patients were almost twice as likely as white patients to agree that digital tools for maternal healthcare should be more culturally informed.

These findings exacerbate one of Nelson’s most central questions about digital health tools: “How do digital solutions change biases within the system? And not just digitize the already biased system in which we operate?”

One way to address these biases is with equity-centered design for digital tools. Equity-centered design means that instead of treating its users as consumers, a product takes into account the needs and preferences of its users as if they were codesigners.

Of the Deloitte survey respondents, over 80% agreed that those with lived experience in maternal health should be involved in the entire process of creating a digital resource for maternal health—before development, during development, and after it’s launched.

Luckily, it won’t be hard to find people with lived experience who are willing to help. Around 90% of survey respondents said they would participate in each of the development processes, a statistic that was “consistent across racial groups.”

“We are at the point, I think, in our industry trajectory, and the ecosystem writ large, where there’s enough out there from a digital tools perspective [...] to really activate the ecosystem so that we get it right,” said Nelson. “We don’t have to be perfect, but we have to be perfect for those who are on this journey of surviving pregnancy in this country.”

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.