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Cardiotocography is almost ubiquitous in its use in intrapartum care. Although it has been demonstrated that there is some benefit from continuous intrapartum fetal monitoring using cardiotocography, there is also an increased risk of caesarean section which is accompanied by short-term and long-term risks to the mother and child. There is considerable potential to reduce unnecessary operative delivery with up to a 60% false positive diagnosis of fetal distress using cardiotocography alone. ST analysis of the fetal electrocardiogram is a promising adjunct to cardiotocography alone, and permits detection of metabolic acidosis of the fetus, potentially reducing false positive diagnosis of fetal distress.
This study will be a single-centre, parallel-group, randomised controlled trial, conducted over 3 years. The primary hypothesis will be that the proportion of women with an emergency caesarean section on ST analysis will not equal that for women on cardiotocography monitoring alone. Participants will be recruited at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, a high-risk specialty facility with approximately 5000 deliveries per annum. A total of 1818 women will be randomised to the treatment or conventional arm with an allocation ratio of 1:1, stratified by parity. The primary outcome is emergency caesarean section (yes/no). Statistical analysis will follow standard methods for randomised trials and will be performed on an intention-to-treat basis. Secondary maternal and neonatal outcomes will also be analysed. Additional study outcomes include psychosocial outcomes, patient preferences and cost-effectiveness.
Approximately 20% of Australian babies are delivered by emergency caesarean section. This will be the first Australian trial to examine ST analysis of the fetal electrocardiogram as an adjunct to cardiotocography as a potential method for reducing this proportion. The trial will be among the first to comprehensively examine ST analysis, taking into account the impact on psychosocial well-being as well as cost-effectiveness. This research will provide Australian evidence for clinical practice and guideline development as well as for policy-makers and consumers to make informed, evidence-based choices about care in labour.
ANZCTR, ACTRN1261800006268. Registered on 19 January 2018.