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Researchers Question Benefit of Fetal Oximetry

Clinician knowledge of fetal oxygen saturation has no effect on Caesarean rates or infant outcomes

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Clinician awareness of fetal oxygen saturation does not lead to a reduced rate of Caesarean delivery or improvements in the condition of newborns, researchers report in the Nov. 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Steven L. Bloom, M.D., of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and colleagues randomly assigned 5,341 nulliparous women who were at term and in early labor to either "open" fetal pulse oximetry, in which fetal oxygen saturation values were displayed to the clinician, or "masked" fetal pulse oximetry, in which hidden values were recorded by a computer.

The researchers found similar rates of Caesarean delivery between the open and masked groups (26.3 percent and 27.5 percent, respectively) and no significant group differences in the condition of the infants at birth.

"Low oxygen saturation, although common in women with fetal heart-rate abnormalities, was also quite frequent in women with normal fetal heart-rate patterns," the authors write. "These results may explain our finding that fetal oximetry was of no benefit as an adjunct for the interpretation of electronic fetal heart-rate patterns."

"This case does offer the opportunity to discuss the appropriate role of the Food and Drug Administration in approving new medical devices," states the author of an accompanying editorial.

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