Objectives: The assessment of electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) carried out by the authors in the late 1970s provides an early case of a systematic review of evidence in health technology assessment. This paper identifies lessons pertinent for the present day in this field.
Methods: We reviewed our own files for the description of our assessment and reactions to it. We also reviewed recent literature to evaluate our observations in relation to recent evidence.
Results: Our findings of insufficient evidence of efficacy and concerns about safety have been confirmed by subsequent research. Still, despite findings and recommendations of prominent professional and governmental bodies, EFM continues in widespread use in the United States and Europe and is spreading into developing countries around the world. Aggressive attacks on our assessment as well as our skills and integrity have been mirrored in recent years by criticism of other researchers in health technology assessment.
Conclusions: The case of EFM points to the limitations of assessment without other actions to assure the implementation of results. Health technologies that are accepted by the majority of clinicians in a particular field may require extraordinary efforts to assure appropriate use of technology assessments.
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