Including the patient voice when addressing racial disparities in maternal health

Black pregnant people in Detroit surveyed about barriers and challenges in receiving effective and equitable prenatal care.

5:00 AM

Author | Beata Mostafavi

person pregnant holding stomach green shirt sleeveless
Getty Images

Experts have spent recent years trying to better understand and address significant racial disparities and inequities in maternal health. 

The data is alarming: Black and low-income people are two to five times more likely to die in childbirth or experience severe maternal morbidity than those who are white.

But one important voice has largely been missing from the conversation: the patients themselves.

"Although certain populations face significant maternal health care inequities, their views have mostly been absent from prenatal care delivery research and we've lacked important information to redesign care to better meet their needs," said lead author Alex Peahl, M.D., MS.c., an obstetrician-gynecologist at University of Michigan Health Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital and co-director of the Michigan Plan for Appropriate, Tailored Healthcare in Pregnancy, also known as MiPATH.

"Our goal was to center the voices of Black pregnant people in Detroit and the people who care for them to inform our ongoing efforts to redesign prenatal care and make it more effective and equitable."

To capture some of this patient experience, Peahl and colleagues interviewed 19 pregnant people who were Black and from a lower income household from two clinics in Detroit as well as 19 healthcare workers who cared for them, including Obgyns, midwives, doulas and community health workers.

Among the questions asked: what barriers were preventing them from getting proper prenatal care during pregnancy? How could pregnancy care be improved from their perspective?

We need to listen to patient voices in our communities to help shape new care models that address persistent inequities in prenatal care and outcomes.
Alex Peahl, M.D., MS.c.

Some recurring themes emerged from responses, which were published in JAMA Network Open, including the view that the inconvenience of appointments overrode perceived benefits and that the approach to prenatal care was too standardized to be meaningful.

As one participant said "[the doctor] is just going to check the heartbeat and it's going to be like 10 minutes. No, I'm not going to waste my gas. Back then I was surviving."

Another person described clinic care as a "cookie cutter" approach that didn't address their specific concerns.

Prenatal care is an important target to reduce maternal deaths and morbidity, Peahl says, but previous research suggests that Black people, particularly those with low socioeconomic status living in urban areas, face significant barriers to high quality care. Challenges may include lack of transportation, financial constraints and structural racism.

"Prenatal care in its current form that requires frequent in-person visits may actually exacerbate barriers for those who may benefit the most from receiving this important health service," she said.

Peahl said she and colleagues have already incorporated the new feedback into efforts to redesign prenatal care locally and nationally, reflected in new prenatal care recommendations that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic and call for greater use of telemedicine and fewer in-person visits during pregnancy.

The ideal prenatal care model outlined by participants, Peahl says, includes services tailored to each person's comprehensive needs and preferences, including screening for and managing existing health conditions that could lead to pregnancy complications and guidance about pregnancy, childbirth, the postpartum period and parenting.

Participants also wanted help with non-medical factors impacting their ability to engage with the health system during pregnancy, including resources like housing and transportation as well as social support.

"We need to listen to patient voices in our communities to help shape new care models that address persistent inequities in prenatal care and outcomes," Peahl said.

Additional authors include Michelle Moniz, M.D., MSc.; Michele Heisler, M.D. M.P.A.; Aalap Doshi, M.S.; Gwendolyn Daniels, D.N.P., M.S.N.; Martina Caldwell, M.D., MSc.; Vanessa Dalton, M.D., M.P.H.; Ana De Roo, M.D., MSc.; Mary Byrnes, Ph.D.

Disclosures: Peahl is a consultant for Maven Clinic.

Study cited: "Experiences with prenatal care delivery reported by income and by health care workers in the U.S., a qualitative study," JAMA Network Open. DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.38161

More Articles About: Rounds CS Mott Children's Hospital Wellness and Prevention Community Health Health Care Delivery, Policy and Economics Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital Pregnancy Growth and Development childbirth Race and Ethnicity High-Risk Pregnancy Labor Hospitals & Centers
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]


Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Featured News & Stories purple cells floating up close
Health Lab
Study links gene network and pancreatic beta cell defects to type 2 diabetes
Teams from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Michigan design a comprehensive study that integrates multiple analytic approaches that has linked a regulatory gene network and functional defects in insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells to type 2 diabetes.
cannabis leaf sketched blue
Health Lab
1 in 8 older adults use cannabis products, suggesting need to screen for risks
The Michigan Medicine finding suggest a need for more education and screening of older adults for cannabis-related risks.
maps purple and blue
Health Lab
Real-time opioid overdose data improves safety response from community
To improve coordinated community response to opioid overdoses, University of Michigan researchers are placing near-real time data in the hands of public health and safety officers. The Michigan System for Opioid Overdose Surveillance, was created in 2016 in response to the opioid crisis through a partnership between the University of Michigan Injury Prevention Center and the Michigan High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas.
sketched out bacteria in a dish yellow and blue colors of U-M
Health Lab
This gross mixture has big benefits for the study of bacteria
Michigan Medicine researchers have found that growing bacteria on agar mixed with organs is an efficient and effective way to study infectious pathogens.
three pharmacists smiling
Health Lab
An innovative pharmacy service for pain management
An innovative service at Michigan Medicine offers pain management support for patients and care teams
patient giving paperwork and person saying no with hand graphic moving teal white grey navy orange
Health Lab
Why new patient paperwork isn’t just busy work
While it’s easy to overlook doctor's office questionnaires, that paperwork actually serves a vital role in better understanding how to treat you. Called patient reported outcomes, this information gives medical specialists insight into how treatments truly impact you as a patient.