The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will conduct a five-year study of new mothers throughout the state to come up with improvements for postpartum health care and work to reduce maternal mortality, the institution announced Wednesday.
Researchers will compare two postpartum health care models — the Telehealth Multicomponent Optimal Model and the enhanced standard of care — with 1,500 low-income, racially diverse pregnant women between 18 and 44 years old who speak English, Spanish or Marshallese, according to a Wednesday news release.
Postpartum mothers usually have doctors’ appointments scheduled about six weeks after giving birth, said Jennifer Callaghan-Koru, a lead investigator in the study and a UAMS associate professor with a research focus on maternal health.
“However, most postpartum maternal morbidity happens within the first six weeks after delivery, often within the first two weeks,” Callaghan-Koru said in the news release.
The Telehealth Multicomponent Optimal Model of postpartum care includes an early telehealth visit with the mother between 10 and 14 days after giving birth. Doctors also monitor patients’ blood pressure remotely for 14 days under this model.
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The primary goal of the study is the “timely identification and treatment of complications” related to pregnancy and birth, especially for “disproportionately impacted racial groups and rural residents,” the press release states.
The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which was created through the federal Affordable Care Act in 2010, is funding the $15 million study.
Arkansas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the United States, and the country’s overall maternal mortality rate has been on the rise. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,205 women throughout the U.S. died of maternal health complications in 2021, compared to 861 in 2020 and 754 in 2019.
A provision in the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 gives states the option to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage to 12 months after birth. As of Monday, 43 states have applied for this option to some extent; Arkansas is not one of them.
In October 2022, Arkansas became the 48th state to join the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health, a national organization that provides evidence-based standards of medical care to pregnant people. UAMS and the state Department of Health worked together to join the alliance.
Some estimates indicate that 195 of every 10,000 births from Medicaid recipients in Arkansas result in severe maternal morbidity, defined as “unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery that result in significant short-term or long-term consequences to a woman’s health,” Callaghan-Koru said at the time.
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