Context: Preterm birth accounts for significant neonatal mortality and morbidity as well as substantial health costs. As our understanding of aetiology and risk factors for preterm birth increases, predictive tools and prophylactic interventions have been developed to improve maternal and fetal outcomes. These are effective, but require surveillance of asymptomatic high-risk women, as well as ultrasound and surgical expertise. This has led to the development of preterm birth surveillance clinics (PSCs), which pool these resources together and have changed the focus of care from reactive to predictive and preventative management.
Methods: A literature review of the evidence surrounding the predictive tests (cervical length, fetal fibronectin, Actim Partus, Partosure) and prophylactic interventions (cerclage, progesterone, Arabin pessary, antibiotics, and steroids) for preterm birth to understand what preterm birth surveillance clinics do and how effective they are.
Results: Measuring cervical length and fetal fibronectin levels are two of the most accurate predictive tests preterm birth, especially when used in combination. Other predictive tools like Actim Partus and Partosure are effective for symptomatic women, but their role in surveillance of asymptomatic women is unclear. Cervical cerclage is effective in reducing preterm birth in women with previous losses, but the role of progesterone and pessaries remains debated. Steroids remain one of the most effective antenatal intervention, but they need to be administered within a tight timeframe in order to confer maximal benefit. The role of PSCs in predicting the timing of birth and targeting women at highest risk to appropriate interventions is therefore crucial in optimizing care and improving outcomes.
Conclusions: Nearly every step of management is still debated although many have a strong evidence-base and effective interventions do exist. The challenge is finding the optimal management pathway, and details of which populations benefit from which interventions need to be evaluated. While evidence continues to be collated, the poor outcomes of preterm birth and the multiple options available to reduce them justify preterm birth surveillance clinics being resourced.