LISTEN: An Atlanta OB-GYN practice is piloting an online maternal health care program. Virtual prenatal care visits could make care more accessible for patients in and outside metro Atlanta. GPB’s Ellen Eldridge has more.  

A family with a young child and an infant

The Berrier family in a group shot. Stephanie Berrier (right) participated in Northside Women's Specialists' pilot prenatal telehealth program while pregnant with her second child, who was born May 2022.

Credit: Northside Women's Specialists

Telehealth care is growing. 

The immediate need to conduct business and even education online emerged during 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, virtual doctor visits are a way of life.

That includes for expectant mothers.

Northside Women's Specialists, part of Pediatrix Medical Group, an Atlanta-based OB-GYN practice, is piloting an online maternal health care program that could make care more accessible for patients in and outside the metro area.

Rural health care services are desperately needed in Georgia, and patients have driven from as far north as Cartersville and as far south as Valdosta, said Dr. Jill Purdie, the medical director at Northside Women’s Specialists.

Now, they can schedule online appointments for part of their pregnancy.

RELATED: Web-based apps will offer a simple way for doctors to provide postpartum care for Georgia moms

"At the beginning of pregnancy, you do have to be seen in person just because we're not really able to monitor the baby remotely," Purdie said. "So, at that point, patients typically come for in-person visits for their eight-week, 12-week, 16-week visit — and then they have the option to do virtual visits starting around the 20th week in pregnancy."

Stephanie Berrier participated in the pilot while pregnant with her second child, who was born in May. Some of the things Berrier liked most about Northside's virtual service included a better ability to balance work and prenatal visits.

She also told Purdie that she enjoyed being able to listen to baby’s heartbeat on a regular basis — especially considering she could then play the recordings for her husband, who couldn't always attend in-person appointments.

Purdie said early data show that providers may actually be picking up on things sooner because patients can check their blood pressure, their weight, and their fetal heart rate at home.

"We're not missing anything," Purdie said.

Many of the visits do involve hands on the patient, Purdie said. But mothers like Berrier felt a difference in postpartum care, too. That's because doctors can closely monitor patients for depression by measuring their moods with a web-based app’s depression scale.

Web cameras are key to a successful visit.

"I feel like the only downside that I've had is sometimes not being able to get my camera to work or my technology to work just right to be able to see the patient," Purdie said.