Bringing up Baby: The value of remote monitoring for high-risk pregnancies


Pregnancy is the start of an incredible, miraculous and amazing journey. Bringing a life into this world can be a beautiful experience for many mothers. However, for women facing high-risk pregnancies, this magical time can take an emotional and financial toll – requiring special monitoring or extra care, which could increase the likelihood of a problem-free delivery and a healthy baby.

Most high-risk pregnancies require measuring the baby’s heart rate through a fetal non-stress test (NST) one to two times per week during the last trimester. The test is burdensome and requires traveling to a doctor’s office – spending thirty minutes tethered to a cardiotocograph, which looks like a fax machine from the 1990s.

For women with high-risk pregnancies in rural areas – where centralized clinics are few and far between – access to this standard of care is a major challenge. Accessibility (or lack thereof) is one reason the Gary and Mary West Health Institute created a maternal/fetal monitoring system which performs NSTs on high-risk pregnancies using a small wireless sensor and a smartphone or tablet.

Dr. Karen Becerra showing clinicians how to use Sense4Baby during the study in Mexico.

To determine the effectiveness of this technology, which we called Sense4Baby, we conducted a comprehensive research study with the Carlos Slim Health Institute in Mexico. In December 2011, we began pilot studies of the Sense4Baby prototype – known as “Mi Bebe” in Spanish – with 153 high-risk pregnant women residing in remote regions of the Yucatán peninsula, a primarily Mayan, culturally diverse and resource-poor area.

For more than two years, I traveled from San Diego to Mexico, acting as a liaison between the Gary and Mary West Health and Carlos Slim Institutes, as well as overseeing the continued progress of our research project. And, what I witnessed was inspiring. Mothers were so grateful to have access to a technology that wouldn’t otherwise be available and made their high-risk pregnancy a little less stressful.

Now, after many months of hard work, we’re excited to have the full results of the research study published in the International Journal of Telemedicine and Applications.

In summary, we found that mothers using the Institute’s maternal/fetal monitoring system prototype and receiving care at their local clinic were much better at making it to their prenatal monitoring appointments (94.3 percent) compared to mothers receiving the standard of care at a referral hospital (45 percent). By using the research prototype, mothers in the Yucatán had better access to care at a lower cost, and were able to receive care closer to their own home.

We’re very pleased that a research proposal we had at the Gary and Mary West Health Institute was able to give so many pregnant women access to this pioneering, low-cost technology. Since then, this technology moved to the Sense4Baby Inc. startup which was acquired by AirStrip, bringing it to even more mothers around the world.

February is heart month, and what better way to celebrate than with the strong, healthy heartbeat of an unborn child. This innovative healthcare technology not only providers better care at a lower cost; it gives mothers peace of mind and the comfort of hearing their baby’s heart.