As part of a real-world evaluation of the use of a parenting app, we surveyed maternity staff to understand their views, feelings and experiences around breastfeeding support and the use of technology.

We are working with Gloucestershire Local Maternity and Neonatal System (LMNS)  to support their implementation of Anya, a smartphone parenting and breastfeeding app to help support new mothers and hopefully increase breastfeeding rates in their local communities.  The survey was conducted amongst NHS maternity staff to understand their views and surface any concerns in order to inform the rollout.

“Breastfeeding is recommended by the World Health Organisation as the exclusive source of feeding for the first six months of an infant’s life, yet the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates worldwide,” said Dr Ben Newton, Senior Research Evaluator at Health Innovation West of England.

“To increase breastfeeding rates, smartphone technologies can offer healthcare providers an alternative form of breastfeeding support.  After Gloucestershire LMNS purchased the licences for Anya, we agreed to conduct a real-world evaluation as part of our commission from the Office of Life Sciences to explore the impact of the technology and inform ongoing commissioning decisions. This survey is a key part of preparation for the evaluation as it sought to identify insight from healthcare staff about breastfeeding support and technology that could be applied to support implementation.  Moreover, our survey offers unique insights into the confidence staff have around using and implementing mobile technology in their healthcare practice.”

The survey specifically sought to explore:

  • Staff views on the current provision of breastfeeding support and information.
  • How confident staff are in using smartphone apps.
  • Staff beliefs about the potential benefits and challenges of using breastfeeding apps.
  • Staff beliefs and feelings about implementing a breastfeeding app, specifically in their routine clinical practice.

The online survey was distributed to staff working in maternity services across two NHS trusts in Gloucestershire – Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust and Gloucestershire Health and Care Trust – and ran for three weeks. The survey questions covered a range of topics including demographics, use of smartphone apps and confidence in using them, ease of finding breastfeeding information, use and availability of breastfeeding resources, views and feelings on Anya and using it with patients as well as the perceived challenges and ease and confidence in using the app.

Some of the key insights gathered by the survey that could be useful for others introducing digital technologies into health and care services include the fact that most respondents were confident using smartphone apps, with 86% feeling confident or very confident using Apps at work.  The survey found that most respondents were more confident using iOS platforms associated with Apple iPhones than Android phones.  That pattern of increased confidence with iOS smartphones was replicated when staff were asked how confident they felt supporting mothers to use different phone platforms – for Android phones, 48% felt confident or very confident, whilst for the iOS this was 66%.

Staff were asked to list the breastfeeding resources they currently use with mothers. 44 respondents listed 122 items.  The most popular breastfeeding resources respondents used were materials from the World Health Organisation (WHO) or UNICEF, followed by national NHS resources, Gloucestershire Breastfeeding Supporters’ Network and Breastfeeding Network or National Breastfeeding Helpline.  The types of breastfeeding resources that respondents identified as missing include app- and group-based support, professional and round-the-clock support, accurate or responsive guidance and visual-based media.

The survey data indicates this workforce is highly experienced in maternity care and in using smartphone apps. Whilst over half of staff identified with feeling positive or helpful in introducing Anya, we were surprised that less than a third of staff identified with feeling confident introducing Anya to women.

“Healthcare systems are complex environments and we do not expect an intervention to be easily implemented merely because it’s available,” added Ben. “Our team undertook this staff survey to generate key insights that would lay the groundwork for the successful implementation and evaluation of Anya. Once the app is implemented in the maternity system, continuous monitoring of its successful deployment is essential.  This will enable us to determine whether there are specific staff or teams who need support. Enabling staff to grow in confidence and exposing them to successful experiences of introducing the app will contribute to a successful implementation.”

You can read the full survey findings here or the Executive Summary here.

Read Dr Ben Newton’s blog reflecting on the survey findings.

Posted on January 9, 2024

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