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A Virtual Intervention Network to Treat Maternal Mental Illness

A gap in the system left space to reimagine how care is delivered to new and expectant mothers — making assessment and symptom monitoring more accessible, and allowing for earlier triage to the appropriate care.

Challenge

Maternal mental health affects a shockingly large number of women with many logistical barriers to receiving proper care. In general, there is a lack of knowledge around antenatal mental health (often referred to as “post-partum depression” but it can affect pregnant women). People may not be open to medication for treatment and doctors are often wary about treating maternal mental health due to a lack of information. Many patients could be diagnosed earlier if a proper system was in place to assess, monitor, and triage them to the right care.

Working closely with the Chief of Psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital and the project’s lead researcher and psychiatrist, PIVOT was able to understand, define, design and create a digital pathway to address this maternal mental health service issue.

Solution

PIVOT designed an academic platform to enroll patients by means of an assessment known as EPDS (a well-known and validated tool), monitoring them virtually, then making care recommendations based on their assessment results. Recommendations include resources and/or treatments like self-treatment options as well as referrals to a specialist for additional care where it is needed.

We met with and interviewed the users, in this case antenatal women with potential symptoms of depression and/or women with a previous history of a maternal mental health condition. Learning directly from key users was an especially enlightening process, in this case because it facilitated the design of a tool that would be easily accessible for use in their unique scenarios. New moms and pregnant women are often on their phones, googling answers or reading up on forums at all hours of the night. Our tool was designed for ease of access, with a light and warm colour palette that offered a friendly and inviting backdrop to a quick survey experience.

The design of the pilot included an interface for both patient and care coordinator to help monitor and oversee the patients in the system.

Impact

This Pilot project is slated for completion in June 2022. As the study comes to an end, the MOVIN team has approached us to launch the next phase — with our first priority being to make the platform more inclusive. We have brought onboard Barrett and Welsh, a marketing/communications agency specializing in diversity and inclusion consulting and strategy, to audit it from this perspective. We look forward to receiving their recommendations, which will be built into the platform, along with our findings from the 15-month pilot.

PIVOT helped us to see it from the different perspectives of potential users; different patients with different struggles at different stages, and then, to try to conceptualize what each person at different points in time may want from a system that we were trying to develop. Thinking about it from that point of view was very new… it really helped us hopefully design something appealing, useful, effective and easy for patients to navigate.”

— Psychiatrist & Head of the Perinatal Mental Health Program