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The Medical and Legal Risks of the Electronic Fetal Monitor

Margaret Lent
Stanford Law Review
Vol. 51, No. 4 (Apr., 1999), pp. 807-837
Published by: Stanford Law Review
DOI: 10.2307/1229441
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1229441
Page Count: 31
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The Medical and Legal Risks of the Electronic Fetal Monitor
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Abstract

Electronic fetal heart monitoring (EFM) is the most widely used method of monitoring the fetal heartbeat for possible signs of distress during delivery. Soon after its development in the 1960s, EFM replaced intermittent auscultation as the standard of care in the obstetrical community. However, Margaret Lent argues that the widespread use of EFM is both medically and legally unsound. Lent points to a series of clinical trials that demonstrate that EFM does not reduce fetal mortality, morbidity, or cerebral palsy rates. These studies suggest that EFM has a very high false positive rate, and that EFM usage correlates strongly with a rise in cesarean section rates. Similarly, EFM provides no protection in the courtroom. Though obstetricians believe that they should use EFM because its status as the standard of care will protect them from liability, Lent argues that it may in fact expose them to liability given its failings. Instead, she argues that auscultation is equally, if not more, safe and effective, and is more likely to protect physicians from liability. Lent concludes that obstetricians have an obligation to their patients and to themselves to adopt auscultation as the new standard of care.

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