Living for Two: The Importance of Treating the Whole Patient in the Maternal Child Health Landscape
The importance of taking a holistic approach to treatment is becoming more and more apparent. When a person goes to see their care provider, they’re bringing their entire lives with them. Lifestyle factors affect practically every element of care, including access to providers and medications, compliance with treatment, health literacy, and many others.
Within the context of maternal-child health, providers not only have the responsibility to empower patients to take a more active role in their own care, but also that of their child’s. This requires understanding the unique factors that make it difficult for new and expecting mothers to effectively advocate for their own health and that of their children and creating customized care plans that address the distinct issues.
Data from the World Health Organization indicates that over 295,000 women died during and following pregnancy and childbirth in 2017. They also report that most maternal deaths are preventable with timely management by a skilled health professional working in a supportive environment. What is key in this claim is the word “supportive”. A supportive care paradigm must be one that addresses all patients’ psychosocial factors to embrace the totality of care.
Women throughout the world share consistent cultural and systemic barriers to proper maternal child healthcare, oftentimes because their providers find it difficult or inconvenient to look beyond the mosaic of symptoms. For example, data on Nepalese mothers published by the National Institutes of Health indicates that just some of the primary barriers to maternal health care service utilization were identified as social factors like family pressure, superstition, shyness, misconception, negligence, illiteracy, and alcoholism.
At the same time, right here in the United States, Amnesty International reports that maternal mortality ratio, or rate, of 17.4 per 100,000 pregnancies represented approximately 660 maternal deaths in 2018, according to data from the Commonwealth Fund. The organization also reports that racial and cultural disparities play a key role in these numbers:
Cultural and racial disparity is just one piece of the puzzle when treating the whole patient, but it’s an important one. It’s been well documented that there’s a wealth and education gap between different races, and these disparities filter into all areas of life including health literacy and money to access quality care.
How to Treat the Whole Patient in the Maternal Child Health Paradigm
See the Person behind the Patient – In addition to their symptoms, healthcare providers can make a concerted effort to identify their key everyday pain points. This can be done through more intuitive screening tools that ask granular questions about their care needs and lifestyle.
Link with Other Health and Support Services – Once providers have identified patient concerns and vulnerabilities past their immediate care needs, they can connect with appropriate support resources during their visit, whether they need help paying for prescriptions, are food insecure, need housing services or are struggling with co-occurring mental health issues. Each person’s struggles are unique and care providers are uniquely empowered to understand the full breadth of their situation.
Extend the Point of Care through Technology – Data from Quest indicates that 95 percent of primary care physicians say they entered medicine so they could treat the whole patient, but over 60 percent say they simply don’t have the time or resources to address non-physical social issues. By extending the point of care past the traditional office visit and leveraging mobile technology like text messaging and email, care providers can continue engagement through the deployment of helpful insights and resources that can give patients the support they need while enabling them to independently manage their condition.
GoMo Health routinely assists providers and hospital systems in leveraging mobile technology to extend the point of care and improve health outcomes for mothers and babies, alike. Our maternal and child health programs have helped providers all over the world to integrate physical and behavioral in treatment of mothers and babies.
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