February 20, 2024

Creating Bridges to Share Maternal Health Data

The Maternal Health Data & Quality Measures Task Force (the Task Force) recently released its final report, summarizing two years of work. It includes recommendations focused on strengthening maternal health data collection across the Commonwealth, enhancing current maternal health data collection, and identifying  processes to improve access across systems to maternal health data; thus allowing for data-driven implementation of maternal health related programs and activities.

Established in 2021 by the General Assembly, the Task Force was asked to 1) evaluate all data from state-level stakeholders, 2) evaluate existing state-level sources mandated for maternal care, 3) examine barriers to reporting and collecting timely maternal health data, 4) examine current maternal health benefit requirements, 5) evaluate the impact of Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) on pregnant people, 6) collect and analyze data and 7) develop recommendations for standard quality metrics on maternal care. The Task Force is composed of policymakers, directors from relevant state agencies, the director of the Virginia Neonatal Perinatal Collaborative, epidemiologists, and maternal health professionals including but not limited to OB/GYNs and nurses. The Task Force’s subject matter experts provided education on the Maternal Mortality Review process, the pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, the Maternal Health Dashboard, current maternal health benefit requirements for Virginia Medicaid and other maternal health issues, data sources and systems relevant to the Task Force’s charges. The State Health Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) was charged with convening the Task Force, with support from staff at the VDH. “The Task Force was formed to foster interdisciplinary discussions and solutions to address possible gaps in maternal care by examining maternal health data,” says VDH Task Force Coordinator, Charli Williams, MPH. “The collaborative environment led to actionable policy recommendations that were data-driven, in order to enhance data systems that will ultimately improve the health and well-being of Virginia’s birthing people and babies.”

The Virginia General Assembly’s establishment of the Task Force came at a time when Virginia was confronted with the same concerning maternal mortality rates and disparities in maternal health outcomes that are impacting the United States overall. In Virginia, pregnancy-associated deaths rose substantially from 2018 to 2020, and data show that Black pregnant people are disproportionately affected by higher rates of maternal mortality compared with their white counterparts.1 These statistics demonstrate how the maternal health crisis has impacted Virginians, but more research is necessary to get to the root of the issues in maternal health in order to inform potential solutions. VNPC Data Analyst Evan Isaacs, MPH argues that “by ensuring broad access to comprehensive data, we can all benefit from a clearer understanding and direction for maternal health across Virginia.” In doing so, optimal maternal health data collection, access, utilization, and presentation are needed to ultimately inform policies for maternal health improvement. Data are among our most powerful tools in diving deeper into the trends that exist in maternal health in the Commonwealth, yet it is a resource which may lack quality, siloed, or left unused as an untapped source for research or policy recommendations. In fact, half of the Task Force’s final recommendations included language to expand maternal health data reporting and/or improve maternal health databases and data utilization. Isaacs agrees that “an expansion of data collection will allow a broader view of maternal health and increased data accessibility for all.”

The Virginia Neonatal Perinatal Collaborative, the Commonwealth’s perinatal quality collaborative (PQC), is among the leading organizations in the charge to improve maternal health in the Commonwealth. Among the VNPC’s efforts to better position the Commonwealth’s maternal health statistics include our upcoming webinar and summit, both of which have specific aims of promoting awareness and providing education about data sources. Isaacs sees the VNPC as being able to “[bridge] data sharing between community organizations, healthcare entities, and government agencies as we all seek to support maternal health improvement programs.”