Harper receives award for research in telemedicine care for rural pregnant women

A maternal-fetal medicine specialist has received industry recognition for her research in the use of telemedicine for the treatment of opioid-dependent pregnant women.

lorie harper 2018The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine has awarded Lorie Harper, M.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, the inaugural Aetna Health Policy Award for her proposed research in the use of telemedicine in the treatment of rural pregnant women with opioid dependencies.

Harper’s pilot will study the effectiveness of in-person opioid agonist therapy versus the same treatment via telemedicine channels; currently, opioid agonist therapy is used to treat opioid-dependent pregnant mothers, but treatment is offered exclusively in-person with physicians. This puts rural women at a disadvantage due to circumstantial barriers like lack of transportation, causing them limited to no access to treatment. Harper’s research will utilize telemedicine’s video and audio conferencing abilities, in addition to supplemental technology like Bluetooth stethoscopes, to provide the same standard of care to all populations.

Opioid agonist therapy has been proved to increase a mother’s participation in prenatal care and improved outcomes in both mother and baby, as relapses throughout pregnancy decrease.

“The opioid epidemic disproportionally affects rural women in Alabama,” Harper said, “and our goal with this research will be to measure the effectiveness of telemedicine in this population, specifically as it relates to improving birth outcomes for mothers and babies. We’re working to reduce health disparities that impact mothers across our state and provide quality care that can help these women lead healthy pregnancies and lives.”

As part of the study, Harper will work with the Alabama Department of Health to complete this research.