Being pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic is uncharted territory for expecting moms and can feel scary at times, said Amanda Williams, MD, a Kaiser Permanente ob-gyn who helped transform the way Kaiser Permanente Northern California delivers perinatal care, which includes pregnancy care before and after delivery.
“We really listened to our patients when redesigning how we do perinatal care,” said Dr. Williams, maternity director at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center and assistant chair of ob-gyn chiefs for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.
Since April 2019, members have been able to participate in hybrid perinatal care, which allows them to do a portion of the average 10 appointments within a 40-week pregnancy via telehealth. This includes counseling and education along with tracking weight, fetal movements, and blood pressure at home. In-person appointments are still required for physicals, vaccines, ultrasounds, and high-risk pregnancy concerns.
Victoria Gitlin, a Kaiser Permanente Oakland member, was 6 months pregnant when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She opted for virtual care, completing half of her appointments from her living room. She was taught how to take her blood pressure and track her baby’s movements.
“Being able to see my doctor’s reassuring smile and get care from my home made me feel safe and connected — experiences that were otherwise hard to come by during the pandemic.”
Gitlin and other expecting moms also appreciate having their partners by their side during a virtual visit, said Dr. Williams. Per COVID-19 safety protocols, partners of perinatal patients have been unable to attend appointments at the medical facilities.
“It’s important for our patients and their partners to experience the joys of pregnancy together, and it’s great to more intimately connect with them while they stay safe at home,” Dr. Williams said.
Kaiser Permanente Northern California ob-gyn departments saw over 500,000 patients via telehealth last year, a 147% increase from the prior year.
Empowered by Centering
Another aspect of perinatal care that went virtual is called Centering. Offered in most medical centers in Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Centering brings together a small group of patients and their partners in similar stages of pregnancy on a monthly basis for 90-minute virtual meetings. Hosted by a physician or midwife, the members talk about everything maternity: Tips to ease common pregnancy woes, safe ways to exercise, how to cope with body changes, and how to prepare for life after baby.
Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara member Ashwini Kuthagodu found strong support and guidance through Centering. “Centering has been incredibly helpful for me during the pandemic,” she said. “It gave me all the information I needed right now and allowed me to bond with women going through the same experience.”
Joanna Stark, MD, ob-gyn and Centering physician lead, said Centering not only gives women power over their care in that they learn from each other, but it has provided convenience and human connection during a time of isolation.
“Centering has empowered these women by providing them a sense of community when they needed it most,” Dr. Stark said. “We really wanted to meet our patients where they were, and that was at home with their families.”
Virtual Centering along with the hybrid model of perinatal care are being refined to be offered long term to low-risk perinatal Kaiser Permanente Northern California members. Learn more.