May 10, 2021

Empowering moms-to-be through virtual care

How Kaiser Permanente transformed its perinatal care during the pandemic to bring convenience and excellent care to expecting mothers.

Being pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic is uncharted territory for expecting moms and can feel scary at times, said Amanda Williams, MD, maternity director at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center and assistant chair of ob-gyn chiefs for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California.

“We really listened to our patients when redesigning how we do perinatal care,” said Dr. Williams.

Kaiser Permanente has been able to meet patients’ needs and provide safe perinatal care — which includes pregnancy care before and after delivery — during the pandemic by using existing telehealth capabilities and piloting expansions of these services.

For example, since 2019 high-risk expectant mothers in Georgia have been given blood pressure cuffs as part of a remote patient monitoring program. As a result, hundreds of women were provided with early and potentially life-saving interventions to address complications of pregnancy.

In Oregon and California, Kaiser Permanente piloted a blended perinatal care model that allows patients to have a portion of their prenatal appointments by video while monitoring vitals for mom and baby with an at-home blood pressure cuff, scale, and Doppler fetal monitor (used to detect the baby’s heartbeat). Participants were also provided training on how to use the devices.

Being able to see my doctor’s reassuring smile and get care from my home made me feel safe and connected.

In Northern California, this blended care model began before the pandemic, providing members telehealth options for a portion of their appointments. This included counseling and education along with tracking weight, fetal movements, and blood pressure at home. In-person appointments are still required for physicals, vaccinations, ultrasounds, and high-risk pregnancy concerns. 

Victoria Gitlin was 6 months pregnant when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She opted for virtual care, completing half of her appointments from her living room. She was taught how to take her blood pressure and track her baby’s movements. 

“Being able to see my doctor’s reassuring smile and get care from my home made me feel safe and connected — experiences that were otherwise hard to come by during the pandemic."

Victoria Gitlin and other expecting moms also appreciate having their partners by their side during a virtual visit, said Dr. Williams. Per COVID-19 safety protocols, partners of perinatal patients have been unable to attend appointments at medical facilities.

“It’s important for our patients and their partners to experience the joys of pregnancy together, and it’s great to more intimately connect with them while they stay safe at home,” said Dr. Williams.

Empowered by Centering

Another aspect of perinatal care that went virtual is called Centering. Offered in many medical centers throughout Kaiser Permanente, Centering brings together a small group of patients in similar stages of pregnancy, along with their partners, for group prenatal visits on a monthly basis. Hosted by a physician or nurse-midwife, the members talk about everything maternity: tips to ease common pregnancy woes, safe ways to exercise, how to cope with body changes, and how to prepare for life with a baby.

Ashwini Kuthagodu found strong support and guidance through Centering. “Centering has been incredibly helpful for me during the pandemic,” she said. “It gave me all the information I needed right now and allowed me to bond with women going through the same experience.”

Joanna Stark, MD, ob-gyn and Northern California Centering physician lead, said Centering not only gives women an opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences, but it has provided convenience and human connection during a time of isolation.

“Centering has empowered these women by providing them a sense of community when they needed it most,” Dr. Stark said. “We really wanted to meet our patients where they were, and that was at home with their families.”

Kaiser Permanente is committed to continuing to offer choices for perinatal care, with more virtual care options and remote monitoring programs to provide safe, high-quality care and expand access and convenience.

Learn more about maternity care at Kaiser Permanente.