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A passport to motherhood

A two-day health hackathon to help Canada’s underprivileged moms-to-be.

48 hours of technology redefine nine months of pregnancy.

Natasha James is a 22-year-old woman living in Toronto. She’s also a new mom. Her baby is one of more than 300 born to homeless women in the city each year. Pregnancy is a stressful enough time in a woman’s life without the added burden of not knowing where you’ll sleep at night or how you’ll be able to care for your child. Lucky for Natasha, she found herself at St. Michael’s Hospital.

Natasha, and women like her who come to St. Michael’s, get help in many ways, one of which comes in the form of social workers Amanda Highnell and Marisa Cicero. Amanda and Marisa are passionate about their work. How can they not be when they see the challenges faced by women like Natasha every day? When they realized the systems in place to help these vulnerable women weren’t working, they knew they had to take action. The result? A ‘My Baby and Me’ infant passport program.

Like any other passport, this was a paper booklet documenting who they are, and where they’ve been, only in this case, the story it tells is a medical one.

The passport is both a portable health record, helping moms-to-be keep track of appointments and health information, and a condensed how-to guide for what to expect when you’re expecting. It helped, but it also had drawbacks: most importantly, when you don’t have a drawer in a house to keep it in, it is easy to lose or forget.

The reality of the world we live in today is that while people may not have a home, they almost always have a cell phone, and it is always with us. This was an attractive solution to the problem of paper that Amanda and Marisa faced. They realized that if they translated this paper booklet into a digital format, they could dramatically extend its reach, making it one less thing for their patients to remember, and providing them everything they need for a healthy pregnancy at their fingertips.

Meanwhile, Eran Barlev, new dad and technology professional, was busy doing what many new parents do – reading a lot about parenting. He came across some shocking news about the rise in the number of homeless pregnant women and decided to do whatever he could to ensure these women would get the care and support they need.

As the director of SELA Canada, an organization with a rich history of investing in community and charity projects, Barlev proposed a solution during an intense weekend of rapid prototyping called “Hacking Health.” It was the same solution that Amanda and Marisa sought. Within 48 hours, the hospital had a digital prototype of the ‘My Baby and Me’ passport program app for Windows Phone 8.

“Irrespective of their socio-economic status, most patients have smartphones now, and we wanted to add an app to the passport arsenal.”

- Highnell and Cicero, St. Michael’s Hospital

Which brings us back to Natasha. She got a chance to see the app after her own experience with the paper version of the passport, and while she was grateful to have had the paper version, she wished this piece of technology had been around to help her during her pregnancy. "I had a great experience with the original passport, so I don't want to say 'this passport is way better.' But it's way better."

In a nutshell, here’s what the app and program do:

a kiwis journey  

  • The passport app helps expectant moms track their pregnancies with an electronic health record.
  • It provides ‘Incentives’ for appointments before and after childbirth to help encourage care through the whole process.
  • It’s also a notebook to record test schedules, results and appointments.
  • The app is also a rich source of information concerning pregnancy, labor and baby care.

The coolest feature that a paper passport could never offer? During an emergency, the app can leverage the phone’s GPS to alert a woman to health care services in her area, saving critical time during high stress situations.

The numbers speak for themselves.

94% of users gave birth to healthy full-term babies compared to the national average of 85%.

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At just $200 per participant, the program is cost-effective and viable for the hospital. The app is so functional and easy to maintain, it’s been expanded to encourage homeless, pregnant and marginalized women to come in for medical care, food, shelter and education. Today, private donors have even begun to come forward to supply Windows Phones to participants, further increasing the app’s reach. It’s safe to say that Amanda, Marisa and Eran were hugely successful in effecting the change they wanted to see.

With Eran’s efforts and St. Michael’s incredible staff, Microsoft’s technology is not only touching people’s lives, but it has helped save a few too.

Partner Spotlight


SELA Canada, an IT service and training company, won the 2014 Microsoft Humanitarian Response Citizenship Award for their work with the My Baby and Me Passport app.

View partner profile

a kiwis journey

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