Despite its recognized limitations, fetal heart rate monitoring is a mainstay of intrapartum care. Although the basic technology in standard electronic fetal monitors has changed little in recent decades, clinical behavior in response to heart rate monitoring has changed considerably. In addition to clearly defined nomenclature and clinical guidelines, there is an increased awareness that environmental and human factors can impair clinical judgment, resulting in delayed intervention and, consequently, birth-related injury. This review examines three essential steps that affect clinical outcome: (1) signal acquisition, (2) associations with physiological outcome, and (3) clinical intervention. Only the third step is directly responsible for changing clinical outcome. However, timely initiation of interventions is dependent upon the second step, which is dependent upon the first step. Thus, deficiencies at each step tend to accumulate and contribute to the worsening of overall clinical outcome. This review article summarizes advances occurring at each step. The synergy and convergence of innovations in engineering, mathematics, and behavioral science shows considerable promise in intrapartum fetal surveillance.
©2012 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston