Could Artificial Intelligence Affect Your Labour?

As the human race becomes more and more reliant on technology, the digital age has marked a current shift in times. Some of which is fantastic, social media and the ability to share a story or have it go viral allowing your “average Joe” to really have their say encourages free speech and equality. However, as my favourite scientist Albert Einstein says, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”  We know that one of the leading causes of depression amongst young people is social media because it doesn’t portray real life.  Most people reading this will probably have some form of social media account which leads me onto acceptance of technology and how this may affect women and their care in labour.

Central Monitoring Systems are now in use; for those that don’t know it’s basically where the hospital will monitor your contractions and your baby’s heart rate while strapped to a CTG machine . Traditionally, if a woman was on a CTG we (midwives) would be in the room observing the recording and keeping an eye on the woman. You don’t need to monitor a woman and her baby like this unless there is a complication or some form of risk. Now we have a system where we can link up the individual’s CTG machine to send the output to a central system; so midwives and doctors can see the recording from a central computer outside the room. This means that the midwife may not have to sit in the room with the woman, especially if she has an epidural (pain free) and an electronic machine recording her observations. The positive side to this is that the woman doesn’t have to have different people coming in and out to look at hr monitor. The Dr’s and other midwives on shift can see it and give their opinion outside the room.

If used for this purpose and this purpose only then I don’t see a down side but what does not sit well with me is the possibility that it will be over used and midwives no longer be providing one to one care but caring for 2+ women in labour and relying on the machines to do the rest. I think this needs to be recognised and prevented before we become more reliant on artificial intelligence and less reliant on clinical skills.

In the US this form of care is becoming more popular and several hospitals in the UK are using central fetal monitoring. For now it’s being used to protected the privacy of the woman, I just hope that doesn’t change. The fact is a machine can’t provide comfort and reassurance, a machine won’t notice the sweat beads on a woman’s head, when she needs a cool flannel, a wee or a sip of water. Women aren’t meant to be cared for by machines. In order for women to labour instinctively their environment needs to be optimum and they should feel safe, cared for and attended to. Scientific research clearly shows that such environmental factors play a role in normal labour progression. Technology and machinery is a great tool in facilitating diagnosis, but artificial intelligence should not be given the opportunity to overtake clinical skills and women-centred care. I would urge all midwives to reject the ideas that come with CFM where possible and spend as much time with women in labour. I’d also like women to be aware of these new developments within maternity so they are able to make an informed choice about their care pathway.