The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among developed countries, with between 700 and 900 women dying from pregnancy in the United States every year. Evidence shows that the biggest predictor for mortality and morbidity is race: a college-educated black woman is five times more likely to die from childbirth than a white woman of the same education level.

Discriminatory treatment based on race is considered a social determinant of health, or a condition of an individual’s environment that has wide-ranging effects on health and quality of life. Improving health outcomes is intrinsically connected to understanding and addressing social determinants of health. As a company focused on the convergence of healthcare, data science, and technology, identifying specific areas where interventions can impact social determinants of health is a core focus at Verily.

In the fall of 2020, Julia King and Zoe Covington-Towner joined Verily's undergraduate research internship program to assist in ongoing efforts to better understand social determinants of health, with a focus on racial disparities in maternal mortality, alongside UX Research Assistant Atalanta von der Schulenburg. Here are some of their reflections and focus areas:

  • It's important to break down such a complex issue into discrete problem statements, using consistent criteria to ensure focus on issues of magnitude that technology can play a role in solving.

  • An ideal solution should be low-effort on behalf of expectant mothers to avoid increasing their existing burdens.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted the communities most affected by maternal mortality and morbidity, making timely intervention even more critical.

"Zoe, Atalanta and Julia approached this project with great intellectual curiosity and a passion to determine how to break down an enormous issue in healthcare and contribute meaningfully to Verily’s efforts to better understand and address social determinants of health," said Megan Mariotti, Clinical Delivery Innovation Lead and nurse practitioner. “I was very impressed by the rigor with which they approached the assignment."

Solving complex healthcare challenges requires investing in the next generation of young talent. We're honored to play a part in supporting and empowering tomorrow’s leaders.