The U.S. faces a maternal health crisis that disproportionately impacts certain groups of people. American Indian and Alaskan Native (AIAN) women experience significantly higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity compared to non-Indigenous populations—Indigenous women are nearly four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than non-Indigenous women. 

In the face of this pressing situation, digital healthcare represents a powerful way to improve outcomes for Indigenous communities. By offering virtual care and increasing opportunities for education, health plans and employers can overcome some of the barriers preventing Indigenous people from accessing equitable, high-quality maternal healthcare. 

Addressing the gap: Indigenous maternal health challenges

Rooted in historical discrimination and further exacerbated by current medical biases and barriers, these challenges faced by the community underscore the need for urgent action to improve Indigenous maternal health outcomes.

Historical discrimination

The history of discrimination faced by Indigenous people has, over time, culminated in markedly disparate maternal health outcomes, including an increased risk of perinatal mood disorders, low birth weight, preterm birth, and gestational diabetes. Structural factors including historical patterns of forced migration, reproductive coercion, and child placement policies have had a significant impact. Trauma stemming from systemic racism, colonization, and cultural erasure also contribute to these negative outcomes.

Medical discrimination

Many Indigenous birthing people do not have access to high-quality care today, resulting in significantly worse maternal health outcomes among this population compared to their white counterparts. Implicit bias and discrimination among healthcare providers contribute to these poor outcomes. AIAN parents are more likely than white women to experience discrimination and delays in care. They also often see a different provider each time they attempt to access prenatal care, denying them the benefits of care continuity. Studies also show that 29 percent of AIAN women report experiencing discrimination when going to the doctor or a clinic, compared to 17% of white women. 

Access to high-quality care 

Accessibility is a contributing factor to many of the poor maternal health outcomes experienced by Indigenous people. 

A large portion of AIAN members receive healthcare through the Indian Health Services (IHS), which is significantly underfunded. A federal report found that the IHS's 2022 budget—close to $7 billion—funded less than half of what patients needed.

As a result, many people aren't able to access the care and services they need before, during, and after pregnancy, which has devastating effects on birthing parents and their babies alike. AIAN women are three to four times more likely to begin care in the third trimester, which can lead to increased risks and complications during pregnancy. 

Studies also show that 21 percent of AIAN women of reproductive age (15-44) are uninsured, in contrast to just 8 percent of white women. The lack of insurance often serves as a barrier to accessing timely and quality care, exacerbating the maternal health challenges faced by this population.

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How digital health can make a difference in Indigenous maternal health care

While the obstacles inhibiting better indigenous maternal health care are significant, digital health has emerged as a powerful tool for improving access to care and outcomes for this community. Digital health can improve access to specialists, increase opportunities for care matching, and empower patients to advocate for themselves along their maternity journey. 

Improved healthcare access to a diverse range of specialists

Geography, insurance status, transportation, and other factors have historically defined access to specialized care before, during, and after pregnancy. However, digital platforms are democratizing this access. Companies like Maven allow members to access maternal health specialists on demand, eliminating the barriers of distance, time, and availability. Digital health can fill the gaps between in-person prenatal appointments, with specialists available 24/7 to address any concerns that arise outside of typical office hours. 

Digital health platforms can also expand the breadth of providers that indigenous birthing parents can access during their pregnancy journey. For example, Maven members have access to OB-GYNs, mental health specialists, midwives, doulas, nutritionists, physical therapists, lactation consultants, and more. Their expertise provides comprehensive care for pregnant people, ensuring that every aspect of an individual's health is addressed.

Increased opportunities for care matching

When patients are matched with care providers who understand their cultural or social nuances, studies show that maternal health outcomes improve. Because digital health is not bound by geography, patients have a wider provider pool to find providers who can provide them with culturally-humble care.  

While only 0.4% of physicians nationwide identify as Indigenous, Maven has a higher number of Indigenous providers, meaning that Indigenous Maven members can connect with providers who understand their background and lived experiences and can address them in their preferred language.  

Enhanced patient empowerment

When patients feel heard, understood, and respected, they are more likely to actively participate in their health journey. Digital family health solutions can place special focus on reducing biases in care. Members can receive personalized care plans that address their unique needs, with reducing disparities as a key focus. Data can also be used to highlight opportunities for improved care in patient-provider interactions, encouraging ongoing provider training and bias reduction efforts.

Digital health platforms also connect patients with clinically-vetted content, classes, and communities where they have a trusted source of medical information. By using these tools to increase their health literacy, Indigenous members are better equipped to advocate for themselves in medical settings, ultimately reducing health disparities

Making an impact on Indigenous maternal health with Maven

Combatting the maternal health crisis that Indigenous people experience can seem bigger than one company or health plan, but every organization has the power to make a meaningful impact on the health and well-being of its Indigenous members and employees. 

Digital family health solutions like Maven can move the needle on women’s and family health, providing high-quality, on-demand care to fill existing gaps in the traditional healthcare system and improve health outcomes. With a 4.9/5 post-appointment rating and a 70+ NPS score along our Maternity track, Maven is making healthcare better for our members. 

Outside of our platform, we’re also committed to supporting improved access to maternal health for Indigenous populations through Maven’s MPact for Families program. Through this program, Maven provides financial and technical assistance to Breath of My Heart Birthplace, which provides reproductive health services in the Española Valley of New Mexico. 

To learn more about how Maven can support your members or employees, schedule a demo today

This article was written in collaboration with Dawn Godbolt, Director of Health Equity at Maven, and Nicole Andrzejewski, Director of New Business at Maven.

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