Giving birth by phone
ROUTINE pregnancy check-ups may soon be carried out from the comfort of the home by midwives using a portable medical and computer kit.
The Foetal Heart Monitor uses existing equipment to measure the unborn baby's heartbeat as well as the mother's blood pressure and contractions. This information is displayed and stored on a portable computer which keeps a patient's records up to date.
The system is backed up by a digital mobile phone which allows the midwife to transfer test results to a consultant's PC so expert medical advice can be instantly passed on should a complication be noted.
It is on trial at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Dr Ken Boddy, consultant gynaecologist at the hospital, believes the main benefit of treating non-urgent cases in the home is that consultants will be freed to use their expertise on more complicated cases.
'Around 70 per cent of pregnancies are very normal,' he says. 'Consultants ought to see only the 30 per cent of cases that require a high-level medical decision.' Pregnant women need not fear they are being excluded from hospital attention because, according to Dr Boddy, the system will only be used where there is a trained medical expert always able to receive and interpret test data.
'Once the team is in place everybody will be able to stick to what they know best, meaning a consultant doesn't actually have to touch a patient to treat her. Patients will still get the same level of service; only it will be in the home, so it is more convenient for them and cheaper for a hospital.' A similar kit for emergency diagnosis of adults is also being developed. It will monitor a patient's heart beat, blood pressure, respiration, temperature and blood oxygen.
It is predicted that the vital signs kit will be useful for ambulance services, enabling paramedics to send data to a hospital so doctors know a patient's condition before he or she arrives. It is due to go on trial with British Airways if discussions next month convince officials that the portable computer will not interfere with navigation equipment.
Instead of using a digital mobile phone to transfer the information from the test, the British system will use the satellite communication system the airline is beginning to introduce with its latest long-haul jets. This will allow medical staff on the ground to monitor an emergency patient's condition and pass on advice to cabin crew.