Date: January 2009
Author: Steven L. Clark, MD; Kathleen Rice Simpson, PhD, RNC; G. Eric Knox, MD; Thomas J. Garite, MD
Oxytocin is the drug most commonly associated with preventable adverse perinatal outcomes and was recently added by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices to a small list of medications “bearing a heightened risk of harm,” which may “require special safeguards to reduce the risk of error.” A review of available clinical and pharmacologic data suggests that specific, evidence-based guidelines for the intrapartum administration of oxytocin may be derived from available data. If implemented, such practices may reduce the likelihood of patient harm. These suggested guidelines focus on limited elective administration of oxytocin, consideration of strategies that have been shown to decrease the need for indicated oxytocin use, reliance on low-dose oxytocin regimens, adherence to specific semiquantitative definitions of adequate and inadequate labor, and an acceptance that once adequate uterine activity has been achieved, more time rather than more oxytocin is generally preferable. The use of conservative, specific protocols for monitoring the effects of oxytocin on mother and fetus is likely not only to improve outcomes but also reduce conflict between members of the obstetric team. Implementation of these guidelines would seem appropriate in a culture increasingly focused on patient safety.