With so many new apps targeting the health of pregnant women and their fetuses, an important question is whether women actually want to use cell phones for this purpose and whether they have the access they need.

Surprisingly, this information is not available in existing studies. Researchers in Argentina and Louisiana recently collaborated to answer this question by assessing pregnant women’s access and usage of cell phones in Argentina public hospitals and clinics.

Argentina is a useful model because free health care is available through the public health sector for low income women for people who do not have insurance through a labor union insurance fund or the private sector. Hence, the public health sector guarantees basic health care is accessible by all women.

Researchers also determined the health information needs and interests of pregnant women. Their research article can provide guidance to innovators, researchers, and clinicians in the US and worldwide targeting pregnant women. Such baseline information is helpful in developing successful apps or SMS strategies for improving perinatal and prenatal care.

Methods

The researchers gathered information using questionnaires that were verbally administered to pregnant women during an antenatal care visit in community health centers and public hospitals in Rosario, Santa Fe, Mercedes and Corrientes in Argentina. These questionnaires assess their knowledge, attitude and behaviors surrounding mobile phone and text message use.

Participants were 18 years of age or older and had previously given birth because some questions relate to late pregnancy or postpartum experiences, which women in their first pregnancy would not have had. The sampling method was not random. Instead, interviewers used a convenience sample of women who came to the hospitals or clinic for care.

Results

147 pregnant women meeting inclusion criteria were approached and verbally consented to participate. The average age of women participating in the study was 29.5 years with most living in urban areas. 17% reported not having completed primary school.

Women did want to receive prenatal care information on their cell phones, with 96% stating they would like to receive text messages and cell phone calls.

By contrast, the topics that interested them and the amount of time they wanted to receive information varied. More than 50% of women were interested in all the topics that the researchers asked about. The most popular topics were infant skin care (most popular), prenatal and infant dietary information, activities/things to avoid during pregnancy, lactation counseling, and when to call a doctor during pregnancy. Most women wanted to receive messages during months 1 to 3, with less wanting to be messaged before pregnancy or during the last month. Most wanted to receive messages after pregnancy but for different periods, with 3 and 6 months after pregnancy being the most popular time periods.

With regards to access, 93.2% were using cell phones and 38.4% had the same phone number for more than one year indicating that projects sending messages during the entire pregnancy should make sure that their participants actually have their cell phones during the entire project. Alternatively, short interventions may be better for these women.

Also, 74.7% of the women used a prepaid cell phone instead of a cell phone on a contract. While this helps them keep their phones longer, it also means that a lack of funds will immediately prevent them from receiving messages on their phones. Also, prenatal text messaging projects should consider cell phone plan factors of this nature when determining the number of text messages they are sending. Internet access on cell phones was limited with only 6.4% using the internet of their cell phones.

Moving Forward

The information in this study provides a useful example of some of the unique factors faced by app developers for pregnant women and women who have recently given birth. This information can inform future studies of this nature and also provide useful information to innovators of these types of medical apps. Studies of this nature are essentially needs assessment or from a business perspective, market research, that should be done prior to rolling out a product.

Future work of this nature should examine the experiences of women in different class levels. In addition, a policy level question to address is who pays for the app, especially in a system where free prenatal care is common.