For many first-time parents, caring for an infant is terrifying. New parents often don’t know if their baby’s behavior is normal, if an illness is dangerous, if the baby is gaining weight appropriately or if their child is reaching developmental milestones at the right time.
These are among the reasons they take their infants to the doctor, urgent care and emergency room. A research study in New Mexico finds that providing first-time parents with in-home health care visits from medical professionals during the baby’s first year of life reduced the number of doctor trips and emergency room visits.
The study, which followed 244 new parents, showed those who received the in-home visits were one-third less likely to take their babies to the emergency room and 41 percent more likely not to take their child to see a primary care doctor more than nine times in the first year. The typical infant should have seven well-child checks before their first birthday.
According to lead research author Rebecca Kilburn, a senior economist with the RAND Corp., a non-profit research organization, there are federal programs in most states that offer maternal/infant home visitation programs, but they are usually provided through the state’s Department of Health and targeted toward at-risk, low-income or families with extreme challenges.
“I’m not aware of insurance companies that provide home visiting services. In most of the states, local governments have decided the programs would reach out to the most disadvantaged families,” says Kilburn. She says other states are looking to have Medicaid cover the cost of in-home visits such as these.
Kilburn says the study shows having the in-home visits reduces the costly doctor and emergency room visits and readmission to the hospital after birth.
Kilburn notes the in-home visits are not a substitute for primary care physicians when it comes to well-child checks or if the child is ill. The in-home visits provide parents with information on safety practices, car seat help, nutritional support and understanding when to take the child to the doctor or hospital.
Southeast Michigan offerings
In the metro Detroit area, programs like the one studied are available through private companies, but those are mostly geared toward disadvantaged parents. Several other hospitals offer their own programs to educate new parents before and after birth.
The Michigan Department of Health offers the Maternal Infant Health Program (MIHP), which is a home visitation program for Medicaid-eligible pregnant women and infants. The program’s goal is to promote healthy pregnancies, deliveries and encourage healthy infant growth the development. A registered nurse and licensed social worker visit the women – and dieticians, lactation consultants and infant mental health specialists are available as well.
A 2013 study of the MIHP program showed it had met the goals and parents were more likely to bring their children to the doctor for a well-child check than ever before.
For parents who are not eligible for Medicaid, most hospital systems in the metro Detroit area offer parenting programs and prenatal and postnatal classes, however none involve home visits.
Beaumont Health offers the parenting program. It began in 1980 at Beaumont as the way to combine family systems and child development with social support. The goal was to prevent child abuse and neglect by making sure that parents were educated in providing infant care.
Beaumont spokesperson Robert Ortlieb says the program is the only comprehensive, hospital-based parenting program in Michigan.
“To date, it has served the needs of more than 100,000 families; and 300 volunteers helped educate more than 6,000 families annually by visiting new parents at the hospital, providing follow-up phone calls, making home visits and leading parent groups,” Ortlieb says.
At McLaren Health Care, there is an in-home program for new moms who might need assistance due to a physical condition, such as paralysis. The other classes are offered are hospital sites.
St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and St. Joseph Mercy Livingston offer many classes for parents, like the other hospitals in the system, but they also have Mommy & Me, a free, monthly, drop-in program for new mom and their babies once a month. The program is for sharing information and ideas about motherhood.
Contact your hospital for more details on pre- and post-natal offerings.
What do you think of in-home visits? Would you like to see this as an option in the future? Tell us in comments.