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Researchers develop mobile app to determine risk of preterm birth


When babies are born early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy, they are more likely to die, or have physical, developmental and emotional problems. This can result in an emotional and financial burden for families and substantial cost for the NHS and care services.   

Some women are known to be more likely to have their babies early, and some have symptoms of labour too early in pregnancy. If identified, these women can be given extra monitoring and/or special treatments that aim to prevent early delivery and ensure the infants have the best chance of surviving without long-term problems.   

Researchers supported by the NIHR Guy's & St Thomas' Biomedical Research Centre have created a user-friendly mobile phone application, QUiPP v2, that allows doctors to quickly calculate a woman’s individual risk of preterm birth and identify women who need special treatments. It also helps doctors to reassure women when their risk is low.   

The mobile app uses a complicated algorithm to produce a simple percentage risk score. The doctor inputs information on the woman such as previous preterm birth, late miscarriage and symptoms, along with clinical test results that help to predict preterm birth (for example, the level of fetal fibronectin in the womens vagina and cervical length measurements). 

In two papers, published in Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology, the authors show how they developed and tested the algorithms incorporated in the app that calculate the risk. 

“We are delighted to be able to share the findings of our work which shows that the QUiPP app is very reliable in predicting preterm birth in women at risk. This should mean that women who need treatments are offered them appropriately, and also that doctors and women can be reassured when these treatments are not needed, which reduces the possibility of negative effects and unnecessary costs for the NHS,” said lead author Dr Jenny Carter, Senior Research Midwife in Department of Women & Children’s Health at King’s College London. 

Patient Safety Minister, Nadine Dorries said: “The joy a newborn brings can be cruelly contrasted alongside the fear when a baby is born too soon. Being able to identify mothers at risk of a preterm birth as early as possible can help clinicians to intervene sooner, improve safety and ultimately save lives.

“We want the NHS to be the safest place in the world to give birth and the harnessing of promising digital innovations such as this is another stepping stone on this shared journey.”

The researchers have recently completed the EQUIPTT trial, where they evaluated whether QUiPP improves appropriate targeting of care. Results of this trial are expected next year.

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