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March 30, 2017

Mobile technology used to personalise recommendations during pregnancy

Inspired by their own experiences, scientists at TSRI (The Scripps Research Institute) and STSI (Scripps Translational Science Institute) want to take some of the uncertainty out of pregnancy. They recently launched The Healthy Pregnancy Study, a partnership with WebMD, which gathers survey data from volunteers using the free WebMD Pregnancy app for iPhones, based on Apple’s ResearchKit software.

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The initiative was launched based upon experiences by Andrew Su, a professor at The Scripps Research Institute, and Jennifer Radin, a Dickinson Fellow with the Digital Medicine Division at the Scripps Translational Science Institute. They both found that there is a big gap between recommendations for pregnant women and newborns and reality.

What constitutes ‘normal’?

There is a need to reevaluate commonly held views about what constitutes “normal” when it comes to pregnancy and a baby’s first months, Su believes. Clearly, there is a need for more personalized growth and health recommendations that can factor in age, race, medical history and more.

“For example, the guidelines for healthy weight gain during pregnancy are very general recommendations for all pregnant women, regardless of factors such as race, height, age, etc.,” Radin explained. “In fact, only about one-third of women even meet these recommendations, with 48 percent gaining too much and 21 percent gaining too little.”

Volunteers anonymously share data

Using the WebMD Pregnancy app for iPhones during The Healthy Pregnancy Study, volunteers anonymously share demographic information, as well as information on their medication use, vaccinations, blood pressure, pre-existing conditions, weight change and much more. In return, participants can follow data trends throughout pregnancy.

After their baby is born, study participants will also be asked to provide information on interventions regarding the birth process and birth size of their baby. This will help the researchers connect the dots between conditions during pregnancy and birth outcomes.

Feelling better informed

“Our goal is really to help the individual user feel more informed about her pregnancy,” states study co-leader Steven Steinhubl, Director of Digital Medicine at STSI, Associate Professor of Genomic Medicine at TSRI and a cardiologist at Scripps Health.

“As we collect more data through this app, we hope to show women how their data compare to other women with similar characteristics,” added Radin. “This type of participant engagement is not easy with a traditional clinical study where participants don’t often have access to the data they provide.”

Knowledge gap

Radin is especially curious to study the data collected on medical prescriptions. “One gap in knowledge is how medications can affect pregnancy. Many medications are pregnancy ‘category c’—meaning there have been no adequate human studies to show safety in pregnant women,” Radin said. “So one app survey question asks users to share prescribed and over-the-counter medications. By collecting observational data on this, we may be able to better understand how these drugs impact pregnancies.”

Pregnancy can feel like a long nine months, so the study leaders are looking forward to giving women a chance to be more active in their own healthcare. “People involved in this study are partners, not subjects,” Steinhubl concludes.

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