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Will pregnant patients administer their own ultrasound exams in the future?

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | July 12, 2021
Women's Health
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From the July 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

The acceptance and utilization of telemedicine exploded in the last year as patients sought to avoid healthcare facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. An important mindset shift occurred among patients to make this possible.

They began to see telemedicine as a way for their physician to protect them from contracting the virus. Previously, there was the perception that telemedicine meant their physicians didn’t have time to see them, according to Dr. Andrew C. Furman, executive director of clinical excellence at ECRI.

Interest is also growing on the provider side now that reimbursement is available. Over 43 states and the District of Columbia currently have some form of a state telehealth commercial payer law, according to the Foley & Lardner LLP law firm.

In addition, many states plan to update their telehealth coverage laws this year as well as make things permanent that were temporarily adopted during the pandemic.

The explosion of telesonography
Specifically in the OB/GYN ultrasound field, there is a growing interest in telesonography. Many are seeing the usefulness of remotely obtaining ultrasound images.

“I think what we're going to see is more innovation and trials on what can be moved to that home-based setting or more convenient settings like a drive-through that offers either an alternative or equivalent level of care,” said Furman.

During the pandemic, a drive-through prenatal care model was developed that made it possible for pregnant patients to remain in their vehicle for services such as ultrasound exams.

This quelled patient anxiety since they still got to see an obstetric healthcare professional, but weren’t exposed to the virus in a clinical setting, according to an April 2020 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

But despite the benefits, this method does have some drawbacks. It doesn’t allow for fetal heart rate assessments, selected ultrasound-based measurements or observations and face-to-face visits with physicians.

For that reason, Dr. Christine Han, division director of maternal-fetal medicine at UCLA Health, doesn’t believe this method should be the go-to for non-rural areas.

“My opinion is that there are pockets of the U.S. and the world where telesonography is necessary and beneficial,” she said. “However, as a whole, I do not encourage pursuing this technology as routine care.”

She added that recorded images and clips are only a small percentage of the entire exam. She believes it’s important for a physician to “lay hands on the ultrasound probe to directly visualize the fetal and maternal anatomy, view images in real-time and to be available for immediate counseling.”

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