iTether Technologies, U of Arizona doctor team up on app for pregnant women with substance abuse disorder

The new platform will help women book appointments, talk to counselors online and message doctors.
By Laura Lovett
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Having a baby can be complicated and requires regular doctors visits and classes. Mix those challenges with managing a substance abuse disorder, and the result can be overwhelming. 

iTether Technologies and University of Arizona physician Dr. Maria Manriquez have teamed up to develop a new app specifically designed to address the needs of pregnant women who are also dealing with opioid addiction. 

The app allows women to book appointments, talk to counselors online and message doctors. 

“Pregnant and parenting women who are in the process of recovery have so many issues to deal with,” Manriquez said in a statement. “Even with coordinated care, such as medical homes, a huge gap exists. This is especially prevalent when part of the ‘prescription’ includes medication, obstetric and addiction medicine visits, counseling, support groups and learning new material such as cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.”

The tool builds on iTether Technologies care management platform, which helps people with substance use disorder improve care coordination. 

The platform was one of the 10 first round winners of a competition run by the Health Resources and Services Administration Maternal and Child Health Bureau, and received a $10,000 award. 

WHY IT MATTERS

Both opioid use and infant mortality have been a major concern in the US in recent years. 

Infant mortality rate in the US has outpaced other affluent countries including Canada, Germany and Japan, with a rate of 5.9 deaths per 1,000 births in 2016

Opioid misuse has also been increasing. The CDC reports that from 1999 to 2017 there have been more than 700,000 deaths from a drug overdose — with opioids involved in 68 percent of those deaths. 

Opioid disorder during pregnancy is related to preterm births, low birth weights, breathing problems and feeding problems, according to the CDC. The rates of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome has skyrocketed in thee last decade. The CDC reports that there are four times as many babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome in 2014 than in 1999.  

WHAT'S THE TREND

The tech world has been developing tools to address both infant mortality and the opioid epidemic — though rarely overlap. 

In January the city of Columbus, Ohio will be conducting a pilot study where low-income pregnant women will be able to call a ride to travel to their doctor’s office and other health-related locations using an app or website.

Meanwhile HIMSS and OurHealthCommunity.com teamed up on the Infant Mortality Developer Challenge, which is focused on creating technologies to address infant mortality.

Scores of stakeholders are getting involved in the opioid epidemic, including the government. In December the FDA announced the winners of the opioid addiction innovation challenge the agency launched last May. Out of more than 250 applications from medical device developers, the FDA selected eight winners. 

ON THE RECORD

“Often, patients have transportation or child care limits that restrict reliable and quality care. It is not easy as a full-time parent, employee or student to make and keep appointments, especially when there is no coordination in timing of visits for someone with a chronic disorder,” Manriquez said in a statement. ”The prototype could benefit the community by setting guidelines and developing standards that help providers deliver consistent messaging to patients.”

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