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This hospital modeled itself after the Apple Store, lets mothers use gadgets to monitor pregnancies

When Lisette Hatamian, a New Orleans resident, learned that she was expecting her first baby last fall, her doctors told her about a new program to monitor her health from home.

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Ochsner, her local hospital, had just rolled out a new initiative called Connected Maternity Online Monitoring or “MOM,” which was available for free to mothers-to-be.

Hatamian was intrigued and agreed to sign up. After her first visit with an obstetrician, she went over to the Ochsner “O Bar,” a part of the hospital modeled on the Apple Genius Bar. But instead of iPhones, the technologies on display included connected weight scales, blood pressure monitors and activity trackers.

The O Bar gave Hatamian a set of devices selected for pregnant mothers, including a wireless weight scale and a blood pressure cuff, as well as dipsticks and cups to measure protein levels in urine.

Throughout her pregnancy, she took readings of her weight and blood pressure about once or twice a week. If she forgot, her iPhone reminded her. The devices sent the readings to HealthKit, a secure container for storing medical data on her iPhone. (Ochsner’s system also supports Google‘s Android operating system.) From there it went to Ochsner’s electronic medical record system, provided by Epic, where it was shared with her doctors. If she had questions, she could reach out to them through Epic’s messaging app.

“[My doctors] told me they’d look at all my readings and if something stood out, I’d get a phone call,” she said. But so far, Hatamian’s results have all been normal, so she’ll skip three appointments out of the usual 14. That saves her from having to take time off from her job.

For patients like Hatamian, especially those on their second or third pregnancies, it’s a relief to get to avoid the hassle of driving to medical appointments just to check their weight and blood pressure.

More broadly, the Connected MOM program represents a big step forward for future of patient care, which increasingly can be administered from the home and not just in the clinic.

Ochsner said it has recently enrolled its 1,000th patient in the program. Chief clinical transformation officer Dr. Richard Milani said the program is reducing in-person visits by an average of 25 percent to 30 percent. The hospital is also seeing some early indicators to suggest that it can identify a condition that occurs in pregnancy known as preeclampsia, although that needs to be studied in a more diverse set of patients.

The next step will be to open up the program to mothers with higher risk pregnancies, to find out whether more regular monitoring can make a difference.

“We’re realizing that we can keep tabs on our patients using technology at a higher frequency than we would in a purely analog world,” Milani said.

Ochsner is not alone in piloting this kind of technology. Jefferson Health in Philadelphia is looking at a similar program for pregnant women, said Stephen Klasko, president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health. Klasko said it as an “ideal use case” for remote monitoring, but is also looking at other opportunities, like diabetes and other chronic ailments.

But Klasko warns that not all pregnant mothers can expect such a tech-driven experience. The health care industry can be slow to adopt new technologies, especially if it’s not clear how and whether everybody will get paid.

“There are early adopters for digital tools that are pushing the envelope, but the real turning point will be when patients start to demand them,” Klasko said.