Focus on Maternal Health

Maternal Health Crisis

The United States is the only developed country(leaves, opens PDF file in new browser window) with increasing maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity rates. Research suggests that many of these deaths and complications can be prevented.(leaves, opens new browser window) Furthermore, this nationwide crisis impacts Non-Hispanic Black and Native American pregnant women at almost two to three times the rate of Non-Hispanic white pregnant women, and pregnant women living in rural areas without access to appropriate healthcare providers are 60% more likely to die(leaves, opens new browser window) than women living in non-rural areas. As Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has noted(leaves, opens new browser window), “It is heartbreaking to see how difficult it is to welcome new additions to families in rural areas without the support needed for a healthy pregnancy. But solutions to this crisis exist and technology can help.”

In addition to the increasing maternal deaths and significant and widening disparities in maternal health outcomes:

Data Mapping to Save Moms' Lives Act

To address these tragic maternal health outcomes, the FCC is playing an increasingly greater role in advancing connected health and improving health care access through telehealth in the United States. In December 2022, President Biden signed the Data Mapping to Save Moms’ Lives Act (Public Law No: 117-247(leaves, opens new browser window)), which directs the FCC to incorporate publicly available data on maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity into the agency’s Mapping Broadband Health in America platform, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Congress aimed to “increase the quality of maternal care and reduce the prevalence of poor maternal health outcomes”(leaves, opens PDF file in new browser window) by generating maps that provide insight on the intersection of broadband and maternal health “where maternal mortality rates are especially high and . . . where critical telehealth resources need to be deployed.”

As of June 18, 2023, the Mapping Broadband Health in America platform allows users to view the intersection of broadband connectivity and maternal health outcomes. Specifically, users can:

  • Ask questions like, what is the status of Internet connectivity in areas where maternal mortality or severe maternal mortality is highest?
  • Generate actionable insights for policies and programs about how broadband connectivity can be leveraged to improve maternal health outcomes and identify health disparities.
  • Display selected data on broadband connectivity (e.g., access, Internet adoption, and download/upload speed) and maternal health outcomes with key variables to generate customized maps at the national, state, and county levels.
  • View maternal mortality or severe maternal mortality rates filtered by maternal age, race/ethnicity, and rurality to visualize patterns, possible disparity issues, and locations where broadband-enabled interventions may be impactful. 

Mapping the Intersection of Broadband and Maternal Health- A Complex Task

Given the complexity of the data and compressed timeframe to respond to the Act, the Task Force planned and implemented a multi-phase approach. In Phase 1, the Task Force undertook an ongoing consultation with the CDC, relevant agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, and other stakeholders to gather their input on the maternal health data and information to incorporate into the mapping platform. Based on this feedback, the Task Force developed an initial conceptual framework to guide this effort, as described below.

NOTE: Phase 1 variables are shown in pink with a double border; variables that may be added in Phase 2 are shown in gray with a single border.

The OUTCOMES box of the framework includes three measures for maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity, including for not less than 1 year postpartum, as directed in the Act.

In the mapping platform, maternal health outcome definitions can be found on the data page(opens new browser window). Information about our approach to intersecting broadband connectivity data with these outcomes can be found on the methodology page(opens new browser window).

Additional Key Variables

As a complement to the maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity data, the Task Force also reviewed the available literature to identify relevant risk factors and social determinants of health that influence maternal health outcomes and where broadband-enabled interventions might help bridge the gaps. Phase 1 includes five such priority variables:

Future Work

The Mapping Broadband Health in America platform is a foundational tool for understanding the intersection of broadband and health, giving policymakers and other interested parties a concrete path to a more connected and healthier future for all Americans.

Broadband connectivity is showing promise as an integral resource to help improve maternal health outcomes, including:

  • Acting as a distinct social determinant of health, which could help to improve health equity and close the digital divide.
  • Providing an innovative means to deliver maternal health solutions and health care.
  • Connecting users with the resources they need to get healthy or stay well.
  • Enabling activities that are associated with better health such as employment and education.
  • Mediating the ways in which the other established social determinants influence health and is, therefore, considered a “super” determinant of health.

Phase 2 (and beyond). During the next phases of this effort, the FCC and its Connect2Health Task Force plan to incorporate additional maternal health variables and functionalities into the mapping platform, conduct important research and data analytics on the intersection of broadband connectivity and maternal health, and pursue additional activities to advance the role of broadband connectivity in improving maternal health. Data under consideration for inclusion in future iterations of the platform include labor and delivery locations, gestational diabetes, obesity, opioid use disorders, postpartum depression/anxiety, preeclampsia, preterm birth, and additional demographic data (e.g., income, education).

The Task Force will continue to refine the conceptual approach going forward and welcomes comments and suggestions from interested parties via e-mail to new browser window).