Electronic Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring

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In many U.S. hospitals today the patient care that women receive during management of labor and delivery doesn’t look very evidenced based. Electronic fetal heart rate monitoring (EFM) is the most common form of intrapartal fetal assessment in the United States. We continue to see widespread use of EFM in low risk pregnancies. Electronic fetal monitoring is standard procedure despite numerous randomized controlled trials that have disproven its validity. It is routinely used, yet does not decrease neonatal morbidity or mortality compared to the use of intermittent auscultation. Intermittent auscultation of the fetal heart rate is an acceptable option for low-risk laboring women, yet it is underutilized in the hospital setting. Several expert organizations have proposed the use of intermittent auscultation as a means of promoting physiologic childbirth. So why do we use continuous EFM in the low risk pregnancy and what does the best evidence support and how can nurses apply the best available evidence to practice? As a patient advocate it is the nurses responsibility to answer these questions and provide the low-risk pregnant woman with current evidence about options for fetal heart rate assessment during labor.
Since the 1970s electronic fetal monitoring has grown to be the single most prevalent obstetrical intervention, used in over 85 percent of hospital births as of 2010 (ACOG Practice Bulletin 132). Electronic fetal monitoring is intended to detect abnormalities in

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