Jason Wang and his team working on a project to prevent preterm births received a $150,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to complete their randomized control trial testing a digital app that tries to prevent recurrent preterm births.
PretermConnect uses a digital strategy for prevention and follow-up of preterm births in Allegheny County, PA, to optimize the health and well-being of mothers and children. Instead of the standard care, Stanford Health Policy is collaborating with the University of Pittsburg Medical Center (UPMC) in the randomized control trial with women who have delivered a preterm baby. The women are invited to participate and then randomly put into the group that uses the digital or a control group who received paper-based discharge packets with supplemental health education on postpartum care.
“This grant allows us to continue recruiting participants through UPMC and expanding PretermConnect’s features to enhance user engagement, including a function to search for resources by geography and topic,” said Wang, MD, a professor of pediatrics and health policy. “We also intend to scale the project with additional content on high-risk infant follow-up and preterm-specific developmental care guidelines, additional engagement features — and eventually support for different languages, starting with Spanish.”
The women in the digital app group receive in-app health education and resources to improve well-being for mothers and their infants. The app includes a social interaction feature designed to foster social connections and promote self-care. They have enrolled 30 women during the pilot phase and 15 mother-infant dyads in the randomized control trial, with a goal of reaching 250.
“The digital approach also allows us to administer brief surveys and gather information on dynamic social determinants of health more frequently than can be done through traditional means,” said Shilpa Jani, an SHP project manager. She said social determinants of health — such as persistent housing instability, food insecurity and concerns of personal safety — contribute to chronic stress and health issues as well as an increased risk of pregnancy and birth complications.
“Adverse effects of social determinants of health along with health complications of preterm deliveries may exacerbate morbidities for the mother and child,” Jani said, adding that preterm-related causes of death accounted for two-thirds of infant deaths in 2019 in the United States.
Wang and Jani said the immediate project goals include increasing health education for preterm baby care, improving postpartum maternal health, and encouraging usage of local resources in Allegheny County. They eventually hope to see reductions in risk for subsequent preterm delivery and infant mortality and postpartum depression, as well as increases in mother-infant bonding and larger proportions of breastmilk feeding.