In Sweden, 28% of women who give birth were born in another country.
These women may be Syrian refugees or arrivals from Africa, or France, or Spain. They speak countless languages and may not be familiar with the medical protocols and cultural norms of their new home.
And this reality is not without its challenges. Sweden has good rates of maternal complications and mortality, but immigrants face outcomes six times worse than their native-born counterparts.
That said, a simple new initiative has been changing that for immigrant women giving birth -- and the practice is rooted very much in medical collaboration and care coordination.
A recent article in the New York times explores Sweden's immigrant maternal health challenge -- in which foreign-born women face outcomes six times worse than Sweden-born women. Of course, these women may have significant linguistic and cultural barriers, keeping them from accessing the same standard of care.
Interestingly, the solution to this problem isn't intensive prenatal interventions or better technologies -- it's simply improving collaboration and communication.
This collaboration intervention comes in the form of "doula culture interpreters" -- trained women who assist a pregnant woman in her labor, supporting her in communicating with her midwife or doctor as well as helping her understand the norms and practices in the birthing process. These doulas translate from the immigrant’s home language and culture into their adopted language and culture. But they also translate the medical system, culture, and jargon.
Sometimes the participation of the doula is as simple as literally translating from Swedish to, say, Arabic. Other times, the "translation" is from medical-speak to plain language. “Good communication is listed as one of the best ways to improve outcomes,” Dr. Esscher, a Swedish obstetrician, said in an interview. And, indeed, the doulas' support of good communication, has been having an effect on outcomes.
I found this doula project inspiring in its simplicity. It's an intervention that doesn't involve displacing or dramatically changing any current practices or providers. It simply improves communication, collaboration, and coordination with the assistance of one of the doula interpreters. I also think that this kind of approach spotlights the importance of having collaboration tools that are flexible enough to involve multiple kinds of collaborators.
For instance, the old telemedicine paradigm of a one-to-one videoconference or text message thread between two doctors simply isn't enough to support this kind of approach. Rather, a truly team-based approach in which, perhaps, the doula interpreter, the obstetrician, and the midwife could all collaborate on postpartum or antenatal care, that is the approach that is truly necessary. Knowing this need generally, iClickCare has been structured to enable medical collaboration among multiple members of the care team, regardless of medical training, across the continuum of care. In an age when our care team includes a range of providers, offering a range of perspectives, this kind of tool is not only helpful, it's indispensable.
To me, this program brings up questions that apply to all of us in medicine. First: We’re in a time where immigration and refugees are one of the challenges and opportunities that many countries face. How might we ensure that all people in our country experience the same quality of care and outcomes? And perhaps even more crucially: we're in a time when medical care is increasingly team-based, with a diversity of training levels and perspectives. How might we make sure that all members are engaged to provide the most coordinated, nuanced care possible?
Try iClickCare to support team-based telemedicine medical collaboration: