We3 health

What if we could improve wellbeing and outcomes for preterm babies through parental education, engagement and encouragement?

Photo of Brittany Lothe
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Pre-term birth in America is an epidemic; a staggering 1 in 10 babies are born preterm. These babies often require a high level of intensive care to help them survive. In addition they sometimes develop long term health problems, especially with breathing, growth, and brain development. When my son, Will, was born at 24 weeks - weighing less than 2 pounds - my husband, Scott, and I had no idea of the challenges that lay ahead. Will spent 5 months in the NICU, and battled many obstacles. When he finally returned home we struggled to give him the care he needed.



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

San Mateo

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Northern California, San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

There is a silent epidemic in United States of premature birth as modern medical advances push the age of viability for a newborn baby beyond 24 weeks. Approximately 1 in 10 babies in the United States are born prematurely. Research also reveals that the rate of premature birth is higher in certain social economic classes due to limited prenatal care. The cost of caring for preemies is astounding at more than $26 billion each year. Although these children survive, the first 1,000 days of their life is critical to help them thrive and “catch up” physically and developmentally. Parents & caregivers are also adversely affected– ~50% suffer acute stress disorder during the baby’s hospital stay and post-traumatic stress after their baby is discharged from emotional, physical and financial stress. Some research also indicates divorce rates for parents of a child w/ extended NICU stay at >90%.

One key to improving outcomes of preemies is parental engagement. Although both the doctors and nurses in the NICU are hugely important, it is only the parents and caregivers who can truly advocate for their child’s wellbeing.

Active parent involvement in preterm infant caregiving promotes parent- infant attachment and leads to higher breastfeeding rates, earlier discharge, and improved long-term neurodevelopment. Despite decades of evidence of the positive effects of parental involvement, parents remain for the most part passive bystanders in the NICU setting. Even with many NICUs adopting a Family-Centered Care (FCC) approach, parent-infant contact and parenting skills remain well below desired levels.

Family Integrated Care (FI-Care) is a novel intervention that differs from FCC because it formally teaches and supports parents to be primary caregivers for their infants and restructures the relationship between parents and clinicians so that parents are fully integrated into the care team. There is strong evidence from a large, well-designed research studyl conducted in Canada and Australia that FI-Care improves infant growth and breastfeeding rates and reduces maternal stress. However, these findings do not carry over to US NICUs where parents face many barriers - such as distance, employment, lack of paid parental leave or other responsibilities and family commitments - to involvement in their infant’s NICU care.

Our solution - We3 health - is the first of its kind secure, HIPAA-compliant, mobile application to capture high quality data about parent involvement in NICU caregiving and to deliver essential elements of the FI-Care program remotely.

Over the past year Will's Way Foundation and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital have partnered to to advance ‘Family Integrated Care’ and – more innovatively - and more build the We3 health application.

This application brings together three partners – medical staff, parents and child, and has a triad purpose: to educate, encourage, and engage the parent in the care of their child in the NICU.

So, what will change for a child’s wellbeing as a result of this application?

Firstly, the parent will no longer be a passive bystander watching their child be cared for by the nurses. Instead, they will be actively involved in the care of their baby, being able to take part in rounds and, crucially, make decisions for their child.

When parents start using the application with their smartphone or tablet, they will straightaway be able to orient themselves to the concept of ‘Family Integrated Care’ and act as their baby’s primary caregiver throughout the NICU stay.

In addition, the app will allow them to:

* Participate in-person or access the content remotely at their convenience.

* Participate in daily medical rounds either in-person or remotely.

* Receive peer support from alumni parents.

*Document time spent with their infant and record infant activity, feeds and output.

* Journal of observations of their infant and their own NICU experience.

*Track their learning and skills acquisition.

The short-term results are extremely encouraging, revealing that children whose parents are involved in family integrated care leave hospital earlier, eat better, have a higher weight gain, and fewer instances of readmission.

Additionally, parents feel more qualified to care of their child and have reduced levels of stress.

In summary, the app helps improve outcomes for preterm babies so that they don't only survive but thrive. A direct impact to short and long term wellbeing for the most fragile babies!

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:


Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

The birth of a preemie is stressful and, unfortunately, there is no way to prepare yourself for it. A complex array of procedures need to be accomplished quickly if your infant is to survive. Instead of being allowed to hold your child immediately after birth, they may be quickly escorted into a NICU. The first sight of your premature child is often through the window of an incubator, surrounded by constant noises and the rush of clinical staff. You and your partner may be forced to make life-altering decisions. You need information that you can trust, in a consumable way.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Based on initial data, our overall hypothesis is that parent involvement in the care of NICU infants enabled by We3 health has positive effects, particularly on infant growth. In addition we know the app greatly lessens stress for the parents, and enables them to have more confidence in caring and making decisions for their child as they heal. Longterm we believe this app will improve involvement of parents who cannot be present in the NICU during daytime hours, increasing access & equity for preterm infants. Feedback from parent interviews has also been promising: "It just leads you into things you didn’t know you needed to know about…." "I would definitely recommend it to other moms, and I would use it again...It has encouraged me to sit in on the rounds, where as I would ask the nurse before what was going on."

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $100k - $250k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Will's Way has a diverse donor network that includes individuals, corporations, foundations and hospitals. In 2015-16, we also received generous in-kind support from global tech companies such as SAP, Intuit and Josh Software to advance our important work.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Although there are other resources available for the families of premature children, they are not as well integrated in to the hospital environment as We3 health. For example MyPreemie is a great solution for journaling and a momento from a NICU stay. While Pebble of Hope provides videos to help parents. And Dr. Krono's or Health Tap are well funded applications to connect with advice from doctors. We believe that We3 health offers the most effective support tool for families and parents on this journey - our app was developed in conjunction with a leading hospital with parents.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

With today’s rapid pace of innovation, it’s impossible to go it alone. This is especially true in healthcare where it's virtually impossible to imagine any single actor solving a complex social problem without public-private partnership. At the end of the day, doctors, nurses and specialists have a single focus – to save lives. Here is how we approach our private-public partnerships in healthcare to improve the quality of life for children and families: • Patients come first • Shared value is a central objective • Failure is an option • New approaches intersect the establishment

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Changemakers.com
  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital

Program Design Clarity

Will's Way Foundation provides support grants to assist families in need of child w/ critical illness. We also partner with hospitals on research to advance family integrated care. For We3 health, beneficiary is equal between clinician, parent & preemie. Clinician=knowledge from parent. Parent=quarterback of care. Preemie=personalized care. Improved skills & trust which lead to better outcomes & wellbeing for baby. Average day w app: Parent enters data/observations for staff, leads rounds. Throughout day they receive bite-sized info, annotate care, journal, learn, connect w/alumni parents.

Community Leadership

Human-centered design & collective impact is the backbone of our work. It starts with the people we’re designing solutions for and ends with programs & products that are tailor made to suit their needs. It's all about building deep empathy w/ NICU families, building prototypes, sharing what we’ve made with the people who will benefit. This means design sessions w/ families, alumni & clinicians & open feedback loop for continuous improvement

Age of Children Impacted

  • Pregnancy - 0
  • 0-1.5

Spread Strategies

Following the completion of research study with UCSF, we plan to expand across multiple sites in California and beyond. 2 step process: offer "lite" version of app for parents child in NICU & develop licensing model pay model with hospitals and health systems. We also plan to address other systematic issues - such as paid parental leave - that limit a parent's ability to care for a sick child in America. We see this as a great opp for partner

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

We3 health is a tool to eliminate barriers to the NICU for families and build trust with the care team. Multiple studies have shown that a parent’s race and ethnicity influence trust. Low levels of trust are associated w/ lowered parent involvement, patient satisfaction, and worse health outcomes for child. This can extend beyond NICU to key outpatient services - such as early interventionists - that help the most fragile children "catch up".

Leadership Story

I have spent my career developing policy and high impact social partnerships to create sustainable change in society. This started at an early age working in congressional offices to a ten year career creating and leading CSR for a global software company. I often say that Will's Way started out of circumstance. When my son was born, we were lucky. We had insurance, great employers & financial means to take care of our son and be in the hospital everyday. But we saw countless families who didn't. And that's not right. We knew we could spur change & create a movement to eliminate barriers.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Most notably: We3 health collaboration awarded funding from UCSF Accelerate-Catalyst Awards for Digital Health (2015-16) Scott & I named Outstanding Philanthropists by Woodmark Children's Forum (2015) Will's Way named Lucile & David Packard Foundation Changemaker Competition Semi-Finalist (2014)

Organization's Twitter Handle

@willswayus @ucsfchildrens @we3health @ucsfptbi

Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)


Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)



Join the conversation:

Photo of Heather Birchall

I feel very proud to be part of this extraordinary organization which provides crucial support for families who have babies in the NICU. This new application has incredible potential, and will undoubtedly greatly reduce parent stress, and allow babies to recover more quickly. 

Photo of Brittany Lothe

Thanks so much for your kind words, Heather Birchall - onward and upward! :)

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