Authors: Lauren Serpico & Jeff Pawelek
As part of the Scripps Research Digital Trials Center, PowerMom was born out of a long-time commitment to transform medical research through digital health data. PowerMom is committed to uncovering patterns in healthy pregnancies and discovering answers to questions moms (and soon-to-be-moms) have about their bodies and their growing babies.
“In general, pregnant people are left out of clinical research because we’re seen as a vulnerable population. As a result, we don’t get to know a lot of things about our body and what’s happening to us.”Tolúwalàṣé (Laṣé) Àjàyí, MD, FAAPLead Researcher of PowerMom
- Maternal health is in a state of crisis in the United States. Maternal mortality has been steadily increasing since 1997. Despite a brief plateau phase in 2008, it continues to increase to present day. This mortality rate is particularly pronounced in non-Hispanic blacks, Indian/Alaskan Natives and those over the age of 40 years old. The leading causes of these deaths are preventable, suggesting that, by engaging pregnant people sooner with digital health tools, doctors and researchers can help them find the care they need.
- Dr. Àjàyí and her team have developed PowerMom to enable participants to contribute important pregnancy-related health information through app-based surveys and wearable sensors. The goal is to build a diverse research community of over 1 million pregnant people to improve maternal and fetal outcomes across the nation.
- An initial pilot study using the PowerMom study app captured over 14,000 unique physiological data points and was able to engage participants in rural “healthcare deserts,” where access to medical services is limited. The platform is breaking down barriers to research participation and creating a rich data repository that can help participants engage with their healthcare team during pregnancy.
- With design help from the participants themselves, the PowerMom platform acquires key health information about the moms during their pregnancy journey while providing them easy to understand data visualization. Privacy is a top consideration, and all participant information remains anonymous to researchers.
- To broaden the research landscape even further, the smartphone platform can also integrate with fitness trackers that record activity, heart rate and sleep data. By leveraging these multiple information streams, scientists can better predict maternal health outcomes and empower pregnant people to seek out the necessary support from their physician.
Tolúwalàṣé (Laṣé) Àjàyí, MD, FAAP
Empowering participants to advocate for the best care
In an article published by Blue Cross Blue Shield, a PowerMom participant shared her experience in being a part of this research community. She noted that the app helped her to be vigilant about her own risk factors, and pay more attention to her vital trends. This PowerMom shared that she still consults the app’s other resources, which include helpful postpartum tips on exercising and breastfeeding.
This participant highlighted the importance of PowerMom in helping Black mothers advocate for themselves in a doctor’s office. “Bringing this app, with a record of my experiences, to each appointment would help them believe me,” she said. “I could say, ‘See this trend? You see what’s happening here?’ This could assist with having more conversations about our concerns around pregnancies.”
Putting the power of motherhood in your hands
In an article published by WebMD, Dr. Àjàyí explains how PowerMom is working to effect change in the disparities we are witnessing in maternal health.
“PowerMom’s unique digital platform breaks down barriers to accessing research, allowing more people to participate from anywhere. This way, we can gather data – through surveys and data collected from wearable devices like a Fitbit or Apple Watch – from diverse participants and build a community representative of a full spectrum of racial and ethnic groups. In this way, we are putting the participant first – meeting them where they are. When a participant sees that a study is being directed at them and for them, they’re more likely to engage. They’re more likely to want to put forth their data and be included, because they’re seen as partners, and as equals within the study.”