Nixxi’s PopNatal aims to help doctors and patients treat high-risk pregnancies

What if you could predict if your pregnancy was high-risk simply by taking a quiz on your phone? 

That prediction is exactly what Nixxi, a Phoenix-based women’s health startup, aims to provide with its new web app PopNatal.  

What is PopNatal?

PopNatal is a simple 15-minute assessment women can take either on the phone or computer to identify whether or not they have, or will have, a high-risk pregnancy. A high-risk pregnancy is defined as the likelihood of preterm delivery. Preterm deliveries are babies born before 37 weeks and significant preterm deliveries are babies born before 32 weeks. 

Dr. Avi Patil

Once a woman completes the assessment, the data is sent to her doctor, who can then explain the results to her and design an individualized treatment plan. According to Dr. Avi Patil, founder of Nixxi and PopNatal, it’s the assessment analysis and subsequent individualized care that sets PopNatal apart. 

A high-risk result means the woman has a 4-fold increased risk for delivery before 37 weeks. A low-risk result means she has a 96% chance of not delivering prematurely.

Patil says the current standard for determining risk is simply asking about a patient’s pregnancy history and whether or not she’s already had a preterm delivery. But, he says, this is an incomplete understanding of a patient’s risk. Not only does this question not address first-time mothers, but it only correctly predicts about 7% of preterm deliveries. 

PopNatal begins its first round of assessments in partnership with three Valley practices in early March. The goal is that this first launch will help identify further fixes. 

History of PopNatal

Patil founded Nixxi in 2017 after he moved to Phoenix from Indiana, where he was faculty at the Indiana University Medical Center. While in Indiana, Patil developed a blood test that tested for two different hormones associated with preterm births. However, he soon realized that the blood test wasn’t easy to widely distribute to anyone who wanted it, so he decided to develop a digital resource to help.

Nixxi officially launched PopNatal in November 2020.

Patil also has his own experience with preterm delivery. In 2019, his wife prematurely gave birth to their twins. They spent several weeks in the NICU. Patil had focused for so long on minimizing risk of preterm delivery, but then he learned for himself how scary preterm labor can be. 

“The emotion and experience of having a preterm baby is hard to imagine until you experience it,” says Patil.

PopNatal is currently pre-revenue, but Patil says the company will eventually target insurance companies. He hopes the companies will see that minimizing preterm deliveries and decreasing the amount of time that babies spend in the NICU is, at the very least, in their best interest financially. But, he points out, those results are actually in everyone’s best interest. 

The PopNatal Assessment

The PopNatal assessment process is fairly straightforward and free to patients of the OB practices utilizing the test. Once the patient is registered, she’ll get a text with a link to take the quiz. She can then follow the link to answer the questions and when she’s finished, the results will be sent to her doctor. The doctor can then review the report, explain the results and design a treatment plan based on her risk level. 

The assessment questions are easy. They’re the same sorts of questions a woman would get asked by a nurse or doctor in an exam room. However, the consent form notes that risk is determined using artificial intelligence techniques to analyze many different factors, factors that go beyond routine screening.

“It uses information about your medical and pregnancy history and behaviors to determine if you fall into a high-risk or low-risk category for preterm delivery,” according to the consent form. 

Questions relate to about two dozen risk factors defined by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Patil’s algorithm references a number of reports and statistics, including government reports, that provide data about these risk factors.

The assessment is divided into four parts. The first part asks for basic information like your name, birthday and contact information. It also includes the consent form. According to the form, quiz results are stored in a HIPAA-compliant patient portal and will be sent to the doctor within 72 hours. 

The second part of the quiz asks about risk factors that include basic background information like smoking history, alcohol consumption, marital status and education level. The third part group of questions is about pregnancy history and the final part asks about medical and surgical history. 

I took the assessment for free with a link that Patil sent and Patil reviewed the results with me. According to the assessment, I am actually high-risk. In cases like this, Patil says, the results would be sent to my doctor and they would determine an individualized plan going forward to minimize the risk of preterm labor.

The assessment is not meant to increase anxiety, but to encourage and enable individualized treatment, Patil says.

Looking toward the future

Patil plans to continue to develop more analytical tools to help providers understand the risk to pregnancies as early as possible, which he hopes will lead to more individualized care in general.