Monday, January 24, 2011


 Beginning January 19th, a non-profit that's traditionally been a telephone hotline-only counseling service for pregnant and breastfeeding women seeking information about medications and other exposures will expand to offer counseling in both English and Spanish through private instant messaging chat on its website, The California Teratogen Information Service (CTIS) Pregnancy Health Information Line, which is housed at the University of California, San Diego, has been planning the addition of the web chat counseling service for the past 6 months as well as an entirely new, interactive website. Those behind the project hope it will propel the service into the 21st century-way of communicating with moms all over the world.

"We are proud and very excited to be able to use this technology as an option for women who need our services, and look forward to demonstrating how valuable this is," said Dr. Christina Chambers, associate professor of pediatrics at UCSD and program director of CTIS Pregnancy Health Information Line. "One of our goals at CTIS is to build on advances in technology to bring our free services to more women of all different backgrounds who have questions about the safety of exposures in pregnancy and while breastfeeding. This will help us achieve that goal," she added.

Dr. Chambers explained the new chat service launch was chosen to coincide with National Birth Defects Prevention Month, which is honored every year during the month of January. Nationally, some 160,000 babies are still being affected by birth defects each year. Approximately 3% of the babies born each year in California are born with birth defects.
The chat service will be monitored by several highly trained, bilingual (English/Spanish) CTIS counselors who specialize in answering questions regarding medications, environmental, chemical and illicit substances, as well as other exposures, during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Some of the most common questions pregnant women ask CTIS counselors include:

·      "Can I color my hair during pregnancy?"
*      "I have allergies, what can I take?"
*      "Can I have a glass of wine with dinner?"
*      "I'm trying to get pregnant, should I get a flu shot"
*      "Do I have to quit taking my antidepressant now that I'm pregnant?"

Women will be able to log on and chat with a counselor directly and privately. The counselor instant messaging service will be the first of its kind in the nation for pregnant and/or breastfeeding women. "This will be for women who feel like they don't have time to call us on our traditional hotline and prefer to use their computer or laptop," said Sonia Alvarado, a CTIS Pregnancy Health Information Line supervising counselor. "This option will also be ideal for women who are uncomfortable talking to someone on the phone, although our services are provided confidentially and can be provided anonymously, whether by phone or chat," she explained.

The new chat feature will be a major component in the non-profit's overhaul of its website. While a strong portion of the new continues to be the library of evidence-based fact sheets geared for moms and healthcare professionals, it also features blogs, news articles, improved forums, and a chance for women to build profiles and exchange information among each other, as well as with experts.

"We're aiming to make the website as interactive as possible so it's a gathering place for moms and healthcare providers alike," said Alvarado. "The quality of the information is evidence-based regardless of the method we use to communicate it, so women and providers can be sure that however they reach out to us, professionalism is not compromised," she added.

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