Using the ALPHA form in practice to assess antenatal psychosocial health

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BackgroundThe assessment of the psychosocial health of pregnant women and their families, although recommended, is not carried out by most practitioners. One reason is the lack of a practical and evidence-based tool. In response, a multidisciplinary group created the Antenatal Psychosocial Health Assessment (ALPHA) form. This article describes the development of this tool and experience with it in an initial field trial.MethodsA systematic literature review revealed 15 antenatal psychosocial risk factors associated with poor postpartum family outcomes of woman abuse, child abuse, postpartum depression, marital/couple dysfunction and increased physical illness. The ALPHA form, incorporating these risk factors, was developed and refined through several focus groups. It was then used by 5 obstetricians, 10 family physicians, 7 midwives and 4 antenatal clinic nurses in various urban, rural and culturally diverse locations across Ontario. After 3 months, these health care providers met in focus groups to discuss their experiences. A sample of pregnant women assessed using the ALPHA form were interviewed about their experience as well. Results were analysed according to qualitative methods.ResultsThe final version of the ALPHA form grouped the 15 risk factors into 4 categories - family factors, maternal factors, substance abuse and family violence - with suggested questions for each area of enquiry. The health care providers uniformly reported that the form helped them to uncover new and often surprising information, even when the women were well known to them. Incorporating the form into practice was usually accomplished after a period of familiarization. Most of the providers said the form was useful and would continue to use it if it became part of standard care. The pregnant women in the sample said they valued the enquiry and felt comfortable with the process, unless there were large cultural barriers.InterpretationThe ALPHA form appears to be an important tool in assessing psychosocial health in pregnancy and to be readily integrated into practice. More study is required to quantify the number of risks identified and resources used, to determine the form's reliability and validity and, ultimately, to assess the effect of its use on postpartum outcomes.

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