10 April 2017
Despite significant advances in medical interventions and health care delivery, preterm births in the United States are on the rise. Existing research has identified important, seemingly simple precautions that could significantly reduce preterm birth risk. However, it has proven difficult to communicate even these simple recommendations to women in need of them. Our objective was to draw on methods from behavioral decision research to develop a personalized smartphone app-based medical communication tool to assess and communicate pregnancy risks related to preterm birth.
A longitudinal, prospective pilot study was designed to develop an engaging, usable smartphone app that communicates personalized pregnancy risk and gathers risk data, with the goal of decreasing preterm birth rates in a typically hard-to-engage patient population.
We used semistructured interviews and user testing to develop a smartphone app based on an approach founded in behavioral decision research. For usability evaluation, 16 participants were recruited from the outpatient clinic at a major academic hospital specializing in high-risk pregnancies and provided a smartphone with the preloaded app and a digital weight scale. Through the app, participants were queried daily to assess behavioral risks, mood, and symptomology associated with preterm birth risk. Participants also completed monthly phone interviews to report technical problems and their views on the app’s usefulness.
App use was higher among participants at higher risk, as reflected in reporting poorer daily moods (Odds ratio, OR 1.20, 95% CI 0.99-1.47, P=.08), being more likely to smoke (OR 4.00, 95% CI 0.93-16.9, P=.06), being earlier in their pregnancy (OR 1.07, 95% CI 1.02-1.12, P=.005), and having a lower body mass index (OR 1.07, 95% CI 1.00-1.15, P=.05). Participant-reported intention to breastfeed increased from baseline to the end of the trial, t15=−2.76, P=.01. Participants’ attendance at prenatal appointments was 84% compared with the clinic norm of 50%, indicating a conservatively estimated cost savings of ~US $450/patient over 3 months.