Racial disparities in postpartum visits decreased with telehealth

A new study shows disparities in postpartum visit attendance improved considerably for Black patients after telehealth was implemented.

More than half of pregnancy-related deaths occur in the postpartum period, so when the COVID-19 pandemic caused postpartum obstetric care to switch to using telemedicine, it was not without risk. With high maternal mortality rates and large racial disparities in maternal outcomes, the impact of this new care delivery model was unknown.

New parents holding a newborn.

A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Maternal-Fetal Medicine shows that disparities in postpartum visit attendance improved considerably for Black patients after telehealth implementation. The authors also found promising gains in other postpartum care milestones such as disparities in depression screening.

These findings echo previous work showing that telehealth erased disparities for Black patients in post-discharge primary care visit completion rates and add to our growing understanding of the potential for telehealth to advance equity in health care.

“Postpartum care has always been an area of inequity, especially given how difficult it is to engage with medical care when you have a newborn at home or in the neonatal intensive care unit,” says the study’s primary investigator and LDI senior fellow, Rebecca Feldman Hamm. “Our group wanted to know how telehealth impacted these disparities.”

“Our findings show that telehealth can have a large and positive impact on disparities. However, we know that there are two sides to telehealth. There are concerns that patients won’t have the access or privacy to complete a telehealth visit from home. But this study supports the idea that telehealth increases access to postpartum care, possibly overcoming barriers to in-person care, such as the need for transportation or childcare,” says Feldman Hamm. “Our study shows that telehealth can help Black patients get more of the care they need after delivery such as postpartum depression screening, Pap smears, contraception, and follow-up care with cardiology when needed.”

This story is by Christine Weeks. Read more at Penn LDI.