An app developed by a team of University of Tennessee instructors to teach student nurses in monitoring laboring mothers and their babies is so successful, it is now available on the iTunes App Store for iPads.

The Simulated Electronic Fetal Monitor app teaches students how to interpret the data generated by fetal monitors that print out birthing rhythms showing the peaks and valleys of the baby’s heartbeat and the mother’s contraction levels.

“The nurse is the expert in the room for fetal heart tracing,” says Susan Fancher, simulation director for the College of Nursing, who developed the app along with Sheila Taylor, nursing clinical assistant professor; Tami Wyatt, a nursing professor; and Xueping Li, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering. If nurses spot problems such as the baby’s heartrate falling when the mother isn’t having a contraction, they call the healthcare provider.

For years, nurses in training practiced reading signs in the paper strips the monitors print, but with the app, students can practice reading simulated strips on their iPads – anytime they want. Instructors can set the baby’s heart rate, how often the contractions happen and various alterations that could be dangerous for the baby. They broadcast a simulation to their students, who then practice interpreting the signs.

It’s convenient, the team says, and a real cost saver. UT’s nursing simulation lab has a number of patient manikins, but at a cost of about $55,000, only one birthing simulator. The app lets students study the same monitor strips at a price of about $5 for each mobile app and $25 for the instructor’s app.

The university rolled out the app last year, and students say it is really helpful and matches the real-world experience they encountered in their clinics. Graduating nursing student Abbey Taylor says when she arrived at her field experience hospital, she watched the fetal heart monitors sending the updates at 10-second intervals and her nerves quieted. “It was like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that,’” she said with a laugh. “It helped a lot to be prepared for that.”

Now available for purchase outside the university, students everywhere can learn through the app. Since its release, the student version of the app has been downloaded more than 100 times and the instructor more than a dozen.

Now the team is working on a sound upgrade to mimic the sound of a baby’s heartbeat heard through an actual monitor. They see great potential for the app as labor and delivery nurses must test for a certificate in fetal monitoring and document their competency in it each year.