Deeply rooted systemic inequities shape our country’s maternal mortality crisis. Because structural racism has driven long-standing racial inequities in health care access and health outcomes, maternal morbidity and mortality rates for Black and American Indian birthing people are two to three times higher than for white people. And early evidence shows that Latino and Black pregnant people were more likely to experience severe COVID-19 illness. (Note: we’ve chosen to use the term “Latino,” but recognize not every member of this group identifies with the term.)

The pandemic necessitated rapid shifts from in-person to virtual care, including changes to federal and state policies, payment rules, and technology developments, facilitating dramatic increases in telehealth use. What remains unclear is whether this telehealth surge is exacerbating or mitigating systemic maternal health inequities.

Building the evidence base on how telehealth shapes maternal and infant health will be key to achieving the best outcomes and ensuring racial disparities don’t widen. Patient voices—especially the voices of patients of color—must be a critical component of this evidence base.

Overall, maternal health providers, payers, and policymakers believe telehealth will be sustained in some capacity post-pandemic. Yet questions remain as to which services can be provided virtually in a high-quality manner, who can effectively provide those services, what telehealth modalities should be used, how telehealth should be paid for, and how telehealth affects existing maternal health inequities.

Read the full article about maternal telehealth by Emily Burroughs and Ian Hill at Urban Institute.