A qualitative study of the dynamics of access to remote antenatal care through the lens of candidacy
Hinton L., Kuberska K., Dakin F., Boydell N., Martin G., Draycott T., Winter C., McManus RJ., Chappell L., Chakrabarti S., Howland E., Willars J., Dixon-Woods M.
Objective: We aimed to explore the experiences and perspectives of pregnant women, antenatal healthcare professionals, and system leaders to understand the impact of the implementation of remote provision of antenatal care during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Methods: We conducted a qualitative study involving semi-structured interviews with 93 participants, including 45 individuals who had been pregnant during the study period, 34 health care professionals, and 14 managers and system-level stakeholders. Analysis was based on the constant comparative method and used the theoretical framework of candidacy. Results: We found that remote antenatal care had far-reaching effects on access when understood through the lens of candidacy. It altered women’s own identification of themselves and their babies as eligible for antenatal care. Navigating services became more challenging, often requiring considerable digital literacy and sociocultural capital. Services became less permeable, meaning that they were more difficult to use and demanding of the personal and social resources of users. Remote consultations were seen as more transactional in character and were limited by lack of face-to-face contact and safe spaces, making it more difficult for women to make their needs – both clinical and social – known, and for professionals to assess them. Operational and institutional challenges, including problems in sharing of antenatal records, were consequential. There were suggestions that a shift to remote provision of antenatal care might increase risks of inequities in access to care in relation to every feature of candidacy we characterised. Conclusion: It is important to recognise the implications for access to antenatal care of a shift to remote delivery. It is not a simple swap: it restructures many aspects of candidacy for care in ways that pose risks of amplifying existing intersectional inequalities that lead to poorer outcomes. Addressing these challenges through policy and practice action is needed to tackle these risks.