World Patient Safety Day 2021: Digital Health for Perinatal Care

By Fraser Ratchford

World Patient Safety Day is observed every year on September 17. According to the World Health Organization, its objectives are “…to enhance global understanding of patient safety, increase public engagement in health care safety, and promote global action to prevent and reduce avoidable harm in health care.” This year’s theme is “Safe Maternal and Newborn Care.” 

Earlier this year, we held a podcast interview with Dr. Ariel Dalfen, Head of the Perinatal Mental Health and Perinatal Mental Health Telemedicine Programs at Mount Sinai Hospital. Her work explores how digital tools can help provide mental health support for pregnant people and new parents. Here are some highlights from the conversation. (Edited for clarity and brevity.)

Could you tell our audience about your work?
In our program at Mount Sinai Hospital, we see people who are planning a pregnancy, or actually pregnant, and who are suffering from — or concerned about suffering from — mental health issues. And we see them up to a year postpartum. We see people for everything from medication management, helping them cope with adjustments at this life stage, helping them cope with traumatic events at this life stage, adjusting to parenting and the whole range of mental health challenges that people may experience during this life stage.

Can you talk about using digital health, and how it helps you address challenges with your patients?
We do have a telemedicine program that we started in 2014, so we like to think of ourselves as pioneers in telemedicine, and particularly in the area of providing perinatal mental health. We have always known that there are significant barriers for this population, in terms of accessing mental health care at this vulnerable time of life. Whether people are very pregnant and unable to move around because they're bedridden for whatever reason, or they're working and it's hard to get to appointments.

The goal with our telemedicine program was to overcome a lot of these barriers. People use digital tools for connecting with family, banking, ordering food and so on. We thought, “Well, why not enable them to use those tools to connect with us?”

Do you find your patients prefer certain types of e-mental health tools?
Most find that video is better for creating rapport, and they can see our faces and our facial expressions. There are some people who don't have access to a screen, or a device, or they don't have strong WiFi or a private space. They prefer to go outside and to use the telephone. Or they prefer the telephone for other reasons as well.

Do you have any final thoughts?
I know there's stigma around how you should feel like becoming a parent is the best time of your life. And people feel so ashamed and embarrassed that it's not the best time of their life, and that they're struggling. I know it's easier said than done not to let the shame silence you. But it's so important, because there are so many effective treatments. I think it's important that people don't sit home alone and struggle when they can have access to various things that really do make a difference.

Be sure to listen to our full episode with Dr. Dalfen and follow #WorldPatientSafetyDay2021 on social media to continue the conversation.

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About the author
Fraser Ratchford

Fraser Ratchford

Fraser Ratchford is a Senior Director at Canada Health Infoway and works with Infoway’s partners to electronically connect citizens to their health information, to their care team, and to other virtual health services and tools. Prior to his role at Infoway, Fraser held a number of leadership positions in health care. His major focus over the past 30 years has been digital health, working in various sectors including government, hospital and public health.