How Can Technology Help Address Infant Mortality?

By Sean Erreger, LCSW; part of the HIMSS18 social media ambassador program; @stuckonsw

Infant mortality is a devastating challenge facing the world of healthcare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016. Even more unsettling is the fact that African Americans face a multiplied risk in comparison to Caucasian, non-Hispanics.  In the state of Ohio, this risk is significantly high, as Silas Buchanan explains in this HIMSS blog post. Silas is the president of OurHealthCommunity.com, an organization that is collaborating with HIMSS to amplify infant mortality awareness through a series of events, including a tech developer’s challenge aimed at creating digital health solutions that address and prevent infant mortality, especially for underserved communities facing increased risk. 

This begs an important question for the infant mortality awareness developer’s challenge: given the complexity of this problem, how exactly can health information technology make a difference?

As a licensed clinical social worker, here are some ways I think health information technology can address these challenges.

Connected Health Solutions

The CDC reports that about 33 percent of infant deaths happen during the “post-neonatal” time – between 27 days and 11 months old. This occurs significantly in cases involving Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). With this in mind, it is important to consider how two-way mobile communications can assist with information exchange between parents and providers.

Acknowledging that the risk for infant mortality extends outside hospitals, wearable devices could help remedy these issues. One example of a connected health tool aimed at infant mortality prevention outside the care delivery setting is a Bluetooth-enabled ‘smart sock’ equipped with a pulse oximeter. If any abnormal activity is observed, parents receive instant notifications on their connected devices. “It’s a wonderful device but it’s around $300, which a lot of moms can’t afford,” Silas stated. “That comes to mind as a type of device that could be helpful – if made to reach a specific targeted market.” With wearables increasing in popularity and populations being familiar with how to use them, these types of innovations provide significant promise for addressing infant mortality risks and prevention.

Expanded Access to Data to Amplify Awareness

Like any health challenge, getting baseline data and helping hospital systems understand the size and scope of infant mortality is key. Communities cannot inform practices without understanding what they need to do to address it. Gathering local data is important, as it can answer questions data like this poses around different states facing similar challenges. As an example, the CDC notes the following disparities between states: 4.5 per 100,000 in New York State versus 7.4 in Ohio. Having expanded, up-to-date access to this local data is key to keeping both providers and communities informed about where and how to best intervene to address infant mortality.

This data is also critical in the creation of up-to-date educational resources, which can be distributed by providers and community resource centers. Technology which organizes population health data or real-time surveillance that’s easily accessible both in and outside the care delivery settings can better support decision-making and the process of informing policy, procedures, and potential partnerships with community members. In order to amplify awareness around infant mortality, all stakeholders in and outside the care delivery setting need to have access to timely local and state data.

Emphasizing Educational Resources & Improved Communications

Solutions and resources focused on provider-to-provider communication could enhance connectivity from entities that don’t always “talk” to each other electronically.  From the community health worker perspective, a hospital’s inpatient unit might be able to share information in real time to a local non-profit focused on maternal health.

Technology is the best way to reach people with all of these resources and can help providers better understand these issues and connect with the right stakeholders to address them. By leveraging information that we currently have on infant mortality and major risk contributors, providers and communities can better informed about prevention. For instance, sharing educational resources that incorporate local data, as well specific information within educational resources around conditions like SIDS. Providing expectant family with these resources should occur early on in the pregnancy, and addressed with the same level of priority as prenatal vitamins, for example.

Complex problems often require complex solutions. The high infant mortality rate in the United States is certainly one of them. Given the racial and economic disparities, it will take communities and partnerships within them to make a difference. Health IT can certainly play a role and it is exciting to see the developer community come together to work on solutions.

JOIN THE BATTLE FOR OUR BABIES

Register to participate in the Infant Mortality Crisis Developer Challenge by October 31. Finalists will be announced on November 13.
View spoken word and visual art community submissions for the Battle for Our Babies Campaign.
Learn more about how to get involved.