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A new app aims to improve infant mortality rates in Ohio

An empty crib in nursery.
Andy Feltham
Getty Images/EyeEm
Racial and ethnic disparities persist in sudden unexplained infant deaths.

Babies die in Montgomery County at a much higher rate than the rest of the nationwide average. A new statewide campaign from UnitedHealthcare of Ohio aims to improve that.

Babies die in Montgomery County at a much higher rate than the rest of the nationwide average. A new statewide campaign from UnitedHealthcare of Ohio aims to improve that.

The health insurance company invested $25,000 in an app called Count the Kicks. That app has pregnant people in their third trimester lay down for a few minutes and track their baby’s movements and kicks. This helps them recognize what their baby’s normal activity is.

The app will provide notifications letting pregnant people know it’s time to count the kicks, similar to how an Apple Watch or FitBit may alert its user that it’s time to stand or breathe to reduce stress.

“Really what it does is get the patient very comfortable with what is normal for them. And when it’s abnormal, that’s when they’re calling their doctor and possibly going in,” said Dr. Gary Grosel, the chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare of Ohio.

Establishing a baseline for what normal might be also can reduce anxiety. It provides the individual with a feeling of control and confidence over the situation.

According to Grosel, studies have shown anxiety in expectant parents has been reduced by as much as 71%.

“There are going to be (different) movements for different people. It’s what they need to get used to, and they can’t just have their friends telling them ‘Well, that movement is normal,’” he said. “It’s just another way of checking in, making sure things are fine.”

Infant mortality is a problem in Ohio. According to data from the Ohio Department of Health, Montgomery County has a rate of 8.1 infant deaths per 1,000 births.

The national average is 5.4 deaths per 1,000 births.

These numbers are worse for minority populations in Ohio and nationally due to barriers to accessing health care, socioeconomic factors, and implicit bias and racism in the health care system.

Certain minority populations are also at higher risk of certain diseases like hypertension and diabetes, which further exacerbates issues with childbirth.

That’s why Grosel pushed UnitedHealthcare and UnitedHealthcare of Ohio to bring the app into the campaign of raising awareness about infant mortality. He recognized that it could be a very useful tool for helping pregnant people.

According to the Count the Kick website, the app first launched in Iowa. In the 10 years since its introduction, the stillbirth rate has declined by 32%.

Grosel hopes to see a reduction in stillbirths in Ohio because of the introduction of the app.

“It’s a great opportunity for Ohio. And really, my thing is this should be in every state,” he said.

UnitedHealthcare of Ohio bringing the app to the state was part of a statewide campaign to raise awareness about pregnancy and infant loss.

Beyond the app, providers have also been speaking with patients about maternal age, a baby’s movement during the third trimester, and the dangers of smoking or drinking during pregnancy,

This information was shared through posters, brochures and app download cards in both English and Spanish.

The Count the Kicks app is also available in 14 different languages.

Garrett is a WYSO intern and graduate of University of Dayton. He spent time covering the Dayton area with WDTN Channel 2 News after the 2019 Memorial Day Tornado outbreak. It was around this time that he began listening to NPR and fell in love with radio-based journalism. Garrett graduated from UD in May of 2021 with his Bachelor’s in Communications with a focus in journalism and graduated in May of 2022 with his Master’s. While not working at WYSO, Garrett is an avid reader, loves to play video games, and hanging out with his friends.