COVID-19’s arrival may have created the necessary circumstance for new and expecting parents to flock to telehealth delivery platforms. Even after the crisis subsides, the shift to virtual care should improve the overall outcomes for this important population.
Healthcare systems, facilities, and clinics are scrambling to stand up telehealth options, after recommending that patients seek in-person care with less frequency and only for emergency issues. With social distancing, shelter-in-place measures, and increased concerns about risk of exposure, new and expecting parents may find themselves confused about how to get care. They may be afraid to receive in-person care, or unsure about whether long gaps in fertility, prenatal, postpartum, or pediatric care are acceptable. In this reality, it’s no surprise that the pandemic has led to a boom in telehealth utilization.
As the leading family benefits platform, Cleo has experienced a 10X increase in call volume within the first few weeks of shelter-in-place measures. We’re not alone. Virtual visits are 10-15 times more than pre-pandemic levels, according to Providence Digital Innovations Group, which reported that more than 1 million messages came through their chatbot in the first month of the outbreak.
New and expecting parents are embracing telehealth services to get the crucial support and care they need. In doing so, they are also discovering that telehealth can not only bridge the gaps of traditional healthcare, but also extend support in ways that are not possible — or scalable — by a predominantly brick and mortar healthcare system.
Quality Virtual Care from Pregnancy to Postpartum
Low-risk pregnancies make up 92-94% of all pregnancies, according to UCSF Health. For these pregnancies that follow a routine course, telehealth can effectively replace care that was being provided in-person until the pandemic forced its evolution. Even for women with high-risk conditions in pregnancy, virtual forms of care have augmented a conventional schedule of in-person visits by providing more opportunities for engagement — a critical aspect of caring for those with pregnancy complications or underlying chronic conditions.
On the postpartum side, care has almost entirely shifted to the virtual setting unless a physical exam is needed to ensure proper recovery from birth or to facilitate postpartum contraception. Virtual care can facilitate more attention to mental health, feeding, and parenting issues, all of which are critical to a new family’s health. Pediatric care during the newborn period is mostly conducted in person to ensure the appropriate rise of baby weights and the completion of immunizations. While telehealth and virtual care won’t cover the gamut of all specialties, much quality care can be delivered virtually anywhere — without physical contact. These solutions are working. “This session came when we most needed it. We wouldn't be able to get in to see our lactation consultant through Kaiser until later,” said a Cleo family member after attending one of our virtual lactation classes. As a first-time parent, this member reported that the advice and information was invaluable. “We felt supported and encouraged after a difficult week. We are so grateful.”
Telehealth and Virtual Care Are Stepping Up
Telehealth and virtual care are clearly filling gaps in today’s healthcare system. For example, in response to the closure of community-based in-person breastfeeding and childbirth prep classes, telehealth services are launching virtual classes. Cleo’s telehealth platform offers virtual group classes for any of its expectant parents and parents of newborns, designed to replicate the in-person experience by keeping the groups small, leaving room for questions, and personalizing advice for each person’s needs.
Here are ways that telehealth and virtual care are replacing or augmenting traditional care for new and expecting parents:
|Traditional Care||Telehealth / Virtual Care|
|Hospital and community-based Childbirth Preparation classes||Virtual group classes taught by specialists with specific experience around creating community and conveying sensitive information via video|
|Hospital-based breastfeeding preparation||Virtual education by an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)|
|Newborn care education in clinic or in the hospital||Postpartum doula-led classes on baby care, which can be timed for before or after your little one arrives|
|In-person breastfeeding/lactation support||Virtual support conducted 1:1 privately in locked Zoom channel by an IBCLC|
|Education after a loss or miscarriage||Counseling done over the phone by our clinical team|
|In-clinic screening for perinatal mood disorders, such as postpartum depression||Online screening with follow-up from trained specialists who connect you directly with therapists and psychiatrists|
|Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy done in-clinic for pain with intercourse, urinary problems, or other prenatal or postpartum healing needs||Private 1:1 virtual consults with pelvic floor PT specialists|
|Prenatal and postpartum yoga classes||Virtual videos|
|New Parent Support Groups||Postpartum community groups conducted with families with babies your same age, led by experts in infant care and parenting babies|
|Couples Counseling in person||Co-parenting and toddler discipline-focused virtual consults that can tailor to the specific needs of a family and focus on challenges arising from working from home and under higher-stress circumstances|
A Human-Focused Technology Approach
With emerging technologies and novel uses of data, virtual care can improve existing care. Telehealth platforms deliver expert guidance through phone, video conferencing, text-based conversations, and chatbots. Self-triaging and self-monitoring tools such as screening questionnaires and symptom tracking can help flag potential problems. And virtual group workshops and peer communities provide crucial community support when many feel isolated.
Machine learning and AI tools are also making their way to patients to further streamline intake processes, triage cases, and deliver the next generation of telehealth to enable a much more personalized and immersive care experience. These are advancements that will benefit patients long after this current crisis.
But it’s not just about the technology. Preparing for childbirth and parenthood in today’s reality can be more stressful than ever before. Leading telehealth and virtual care platforms like Cleo understand that relationships with members matter and make a difference in delivering more personalized care. Our solution offers telehealth services for expectant and new parents in a way that embraces both the physical and emotional components of prenatal and postnatal care — with a focus on ensuring members feel supported and that their goals as new and expecting parents are honored and prioritized. We do this by connecting each member with an expert guide who picks up where their doctor left off, and by delivering personalized and evidence-based information when they need it.
Employers Need Virtual Options
Before COVID-19 happened, 20% of employers already boosted health-related and wellness benefits, according to the 2019 employee benefits survey by SHRM. The majority of the HR professionals surveyed viewed healthcare benefits as being the most important benefit to workers. According to SHRM survey data, telehealth services also tend to cost less than in-person visits, and offer greater options of specialist care.
As employers prepare for the next several weeks to months of uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, it’s evident that they’re taking notice of the importance of virtual care options for their employees — particularly for their acutely impacted populations, such as working parents and expecting families.
Telehealth and virtual care can drive efficiencies across the board. They can allow earlier access to care, avert complications, and potentially lower the total cost. Going virtual holds a lot of promise and is well-positioned to become a much more integral and visible part of our lives and how we receive care.
Cleo’s Family Benefits Platform Made for Working Parents
As an employer-sponsored benefit, Cleo offers telehealth support through one-on-one guide engagement, evidence-based programs, and a personalized app experience. We tailor support and care to each family’s specific needs. With preconception care and mental well-being to lactation and nutrition, infant sleep, and child development, Cleo’s telehealth model is designed to build trust and engagement with working parents. The result is a happier, healthier, and more diverse workforce.
Every Cleo family is matched with a Cleo Guide, an expert team of healthcare providers, including maternal mental health specialists, developmental psychologists, and career coaches, who provide expert guidance and support to give working parents the confidence they need to thrive at home and at work — especially during this turbulent time.
Cleo is helping companies quickly onboard the Cleo employer-sponsored benefit to support vulnerable workforce populations. To learn more about Cleo and the ways its telehealth model is supporting new and expecting parents, visit hicleo.com.