SAN FRANCISCO — Pregnancy care is poised for a 21st century upgrade.
Algorithms promise to detect the difference between real labor and a false alarm. Wearables give women a way to track contractions. Apps relay home blood pressure readings directly to doctors, offering a possible way to cut down on prenatal visits — and catch certain pregnancy complications before they become full-blown crises.
Doctors say the new technologies have the potential to transform prenatal care. But for all the promise, doctors caution that some direct-to-consumer devices might cause anxiety or unnecessary trips to the clinic — without strong evidence that they offer any real benefits to pregnant women.
“Prenatal care is burdensome. It requires patients to be in at minimum, once a month. People have jobs. It’s hard to get in… You could imagine some kind of virtual substitute would be very welcome,” said Dr. Thomas McElrath, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “But we would have to figure out and think carefully about how to do that,” he added.
Obstetrician-gynecologists are particularly worried about direct-to-consumer devices that aren’t woven into the fabric of prenatal care. Among their concerns: Faulty or confusing data might send women to their doctors when they don’t need to go. And for some devices, doctors say the lack of research or a true need to use them means they’re simply a waste of money.