Meet “Irth”: New App Looking To Take On Bias In Maternity Care For Women Of Color

April 27, 2018  |  

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When looking for the right physician, whether you’re just attempting to get a regular checkup or preparing to bring a child into the world, you want to go to someone with great reviews. That’s a given. However, how many stars a person has isn’t enough. Often, when you’re a person of color, you would also like a doctor who has worked well with someone like you, because there is a chance that individual may come off more compassionate and understanding. But many of us just go with whomever might have the soonest available appointments, and we end up feeling like we would have been better off with someone else. And with proven differences in the treatment of women of color and our white counterparts, it’s truly hard navigating the medical system and obtaining great healthcare.

But a new app concept is looking to change that. It’s called Irth, but is known as “the Yelp for the health equity movement,” and it’s a project from Narrative Nation, which is a non-profit aiming to do something about the many stories of healthcare disparities and mistreatment.

“Irth is birth, but we dropped the B for bias,” said Kimberly Seals Allers, a maternal and infant health advocate who came up with the concept after some unpleasant experiences with physicians while pregnant. “I read several reviews and received great recommendations from my white girlfriends. This was supposedly a top-rated hospital. But my own birth experience as a college-educated, unwed, black woman left me feeling traumatized and disrespected. Then I realized that other black and brown women had similar experiences, even at the ‘best’ hospitals. It was clear to me that not all types of people experience the same hospital in the same way.”

What Irth does to remedy this is to obtain the birth experiences of women, along with their race, class, sexual orientation and more, to get their honest reviews of hospitals. With that information, you can know what ratings in your area are like from people who actually look like and are similar to you.

“A review from a middle-class white woman does not necessarily help a low-income black woman, a transgender person, or a same-sex couple understand what their experience may be like,” she said. “With Irth, you tell us exactly who you are and we find a review and rating from a person just like you.”

The app aims to include pediatricians, Ob/Gyns and other types of healthcare professionals with long-term goals of having an impact on the bias people of color are dealing with, which has been linked to the high infant and maternal mortality rates of Black women. And research, according to the announcement of this new app, shows that not just race and class, but gender identification and sexual orientation as well, can affect the care patients receive.

“Collecting the intersectional experiences of birth at U.S. hospitals, gives us the data to push for social change and greater accountability,” she said. “We are building a community of Irth-ers who stand up for bias-free care.”

The app concept will be debuted at the MIT Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon at the MIT Media Lab in Boston from April 27-29. The event brings together a wealth of doctors, engineers, designers, and companies from around the world to discuss efforts to improve the technology and experience of breastfeeding and maternity care (pre and postpartum). We are hopeful that with all hands on deck, the app will be made available very soon, especially since there’s such a clear need for it.

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