Augusta University Professor Receives More Funding for Pregnancy Care App

Staff Report From Augusta CEO

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Georgia is in a maternal mortality crisis.

Recent reports not only rank the state as one of the most dangerous places in America for maternal health, but also name Georgia among the highest in the developed world for maternal death.

More disturbing are recent reports that show African-American mothers are more at risk, especially those in rural areas. Many of these deaths occur due to complications of pregnancy or childbirth, or within weeks after giving birth.

To help counteract these statistics, Dr. Marlo Vernon, an assistant professor in Cancer Control, Prevention, and Population Health in the Georgia Cancer Center, is developing a new pregnancy care app to give health care providers a better way of monitoring their patients remotely.

The Vida app is Vernon’s brainchild, and is being designed to provide doctors with real-time patient data, including sudden changes in blood pressure or self-reported mental health. 

“New mothers in our state need better access to prenatal and postpartum care, and the Vida app is a tech-based product that will help them make informed decisions about their care,” said Vernon. “My goal for the Vida app is to not only improve communications among patients and their providers, but also alleviate health care barriers for women living in rural areas with limited access to on-site prenatal care.”

Vernon’s app concept landed her first place in both the first and second phases of the Remote Pregnancy Monitoring Grand Challenge, an innovative technology-based competition conducted by Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Her cash prizes totaled $35,000, and the earnings are being used to fund the app design.

As part of the competition, Vernon has spent almost a year working with various health care agencies, including the East Central Health District, Hope House, and the Augusta University Medical Center, to develop and test the app’s prototype on new moms.

Her goal is to prove the software is a health care intervention, and she will present her findings in the final phase of the challenge in May. If her prototype is selected, she may receive up to $150,000 and have her app tested on a larger scale.

“I am so honored to be selected to receive funding to further my work in creating a platform that I hope will change lives,” said Vernon. “Changing statistics takes all of us getting involved, and I am grateful to help Georgia’s mothers take control of their health.”

Vernon is an award-winning researcher, whose work covers an array of aspects of public health and human behavior, including the analysis of maternal nutrition educational needs of African-American women.

Vernon earned her bachelor’s degree from Franciscan University of Steubenville, a master’s degree from the University of South Carolina and a doctoral degree from Augusta University. Additionally, she is one of the first graduates of Augusta University’s Applied Health Sciences program and has been a faculty member since 2018.