Unexpected Effects of a System-Distributed Mobile Application in Maternity Care: A Randomized Controlled Trial

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Background. As pregnant mothers increasingly engage in shared decision making regarding prenatal decisions, such as induction of labor, the patient’s level of activation may influence pregnancy outcomes. One potential tool to increase patient activation in the clinical setting is mobile applications. However, research is limited in comparing mobile apps with other modalities of patient education and engagement tools. Aim. This study was designed to test the effectiveness of a mobile app as a replacement for a spiral notebook guide as a patient education and engagement tool in the prenatal clinical setting. Method. This randomized controlled trial was conducted in the Women’s Health Clinic and Family Health Clinic of three hospitals. Repeated-measures analysis of covariance was used to test intervention effects in the study sample of 205 patients. Results. Mothers used a mobile app interface to more frequently record information about their pregnancy; however, across time, mothers using a mobile app reported a significant decrease in patient activation. Discussion. The unexpected negative effects in the group of patients randomized to the mobile app prompt these authors to recommend that health systems pause before distributing their own version of mobile apps that may decrease patient activation. Conclusion. Mobile apps can be inherently empowering and engaging, but how a system encourages their use may ultimately determine their adoption and success.

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