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What You Need to Know About WebMD's New Pregnancy App & Research Study

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

WebMD's updated pregnancy app tracks & shares your information with researchers and other users

In a world where apps exist for tracking everything from sleep cycles to menstrual cycles, it’s no surprise that ones used to track progress during a pregnancy are especially popular.

While WebMD has had a mobile pregnancy app for several years now, it has recently been updated to include an intriguing feature. Users can now opt into a large-scale study, sharing their data with other expecting parents and researchers alike.

What it does

Here’s how it works: After you download and sign into the app, it functions the same way as the previous version — providing pregnancy tips and advice, a week-by-week breakdown of the gestation process and checklists to help you prepare for the baby’s arrival. This difference is found on the bottom right of the screen. There is a menu where there is an option called “Research,” which gives you the option of participating in the Healthy Pregnancy Study.

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The goal is to enroll more than 100,000 pregnant people in what will likely be a multiyear study according to Dr. Jennifer Radin, the study’s principal investigator.

This is an observational study, meaning that there is no treatment or intervention for the participants. It is also completely voluntary and users of this function of the app can drop out of the study any time. Users will be asked questions about their current health and medical history when they sign up, and then answer follow-up questions throughout their pregnancy and up to four weeks after delivery. The information collected will be de-identified and kept anonymous.

Possible concerns and benefits

Dr. Celia B. Fisher, director of the Center for Ethics Education at Fordham University advised users to proceed with caution regarding their personal information.

“Even when data is de-identified, as we become more and more technologically progressive, no site can guarantee that the identity of the pregnant woman will not be uncovered by new technological knowledge,” she told SheKnows.

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In exchange for entering their personal information, users will be able to visually track their weight change and blood pressure and compare them to the recommended guidelines, as well as compare their individual information to other app users.

Research projects

There are several specific ideas in the works for the data resulting from the study, Radin told SheKnows. The first is to identify more individualized weight gain recommendations by crowdsourcing from a large and diverse population using the app.

The current recommendations that are put out by the Institute of Medicine are very general for all pregnant women regardless of factors such as race, height and age. In fact, according to Radin, only around one-third of women even meet these recommendations, with 48 percent gaining too much and 21 percent gaining too little.

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“We plan to provide women with data and visualizations that show how their physiological changes, such as weight and blood pressure, compare to other women with similar characteristics as themselves,” she explained. “We also hope that this data can be used to help predict certain complications, such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, earlier.”

Radin noted that there is potential for many other research projects using the information collected from this app, which will be available in de-identified form for qualified researchers to use in their own projects.

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