Reducing the rate of preterm birth is a cornerstone of global efforts to address child mortality. Existing tests offer imperfect prediction, particularly for universal screening. Cervical electrical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) is a novel technique to quantify the ripening changes which precede labour. Mid-trimester EIS measurements have been shown to accurately predict preterm birth in asymptomatic women. This study aimed to comprehensively evaluate the acceptability of cervical EIS to low and high-risk women undergoing screening during a larger prospective trial.
In this parallel convergent mixed methods study, 40 women completed questionnaires before and after screening tests (EIS, cervical length measurement and fetal fibronectin quantification). Quantitative outcomes were anxiety levels before and after screening (Spielberger State Trait Anxiety Inventory, STAI-6), pain (Short Form McGill Pain Questionnaire) and ratings of EIS device appearance and test acceptability (visual analogue scales). Twenty-one women (11 high-risk, 10 low-risk) also attended a semi-structured qualitative interview. Interviews were recorded and transcribed, then thematic analysis was performed. A convergence coding matrix was constructed to enable triangulation of quantitative and qualitative results.
High risk women demonstrated a significant reduction in anxiety following screening (mean STAI-6 score 34.5 vs. 29.0, p = 0.002). A similar trend was observed among low-risk participants. Ratings of pain, EIS device appearance and procedural acceptability did not differ between groups. Mean pain ratings were low (visual analogue scale 0.97 and 1.01), comparing favourably to published evaluations of conventional screening tests. Qualitative analysis provided insight into both the physical consequences and emotional experiences of screening. Additional determinants of the screening experience included device design, pre-existing perspectives on intimate examination, attitudes to knowledge in pregnancy and interaction with clinical staff. Finally, a range of practical considerations regarding wider use of EIS were identified, with valuable complementary detail regarding acceptability for use in antenatal care.
Cervical EIS is well tolerated and acceptable to both low and high-risk women. These results provide useful insights to inform the design of future study and screening protocols