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Are We Being Ultra-Safe with Ultrasound?

gty_pregnancy_ultrasound_ll_130306_msIt used to be that the first photos ever taken of an individual occurred after birth. However, on social media today, we frequently get a good look far before the child is even born. Unsure how to respond?

A Wall Street Journal article highlighting recent information compiled by FAIR Health Inc. may have the answer. The article concludes that, “enough is enough” at least when it comes to ultrasound and sonogram imaging exposure.

In the past, new parents have generally proven very eager to share photos of their newborns. More recently, with the commercialization of ultrasound imaging, to-be and expecting parents have now been able to capture and share images of their child even prior to birth. Medical experts are now warning these prospective parents about the uncertainty of over-exposure after witnessing an enormous growth in the use of ultrasound procedures for medical and commercial practices. After reports concluded that the average number of ultrasounds per pregnancy nearly doubled between 1997 and 2006 — jumping from 1.5 to 2.7 — the number once again has increased almost two fold in the span of nearly a decade as the Wall Street Journal now reports an average of 5.2 ultrasound procedures per pregnancy. Multiple government and private organizations, including the FDA and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have repeatedly recommended limiting the use of Ultrasound image testing in low-risk pregnancies. However, the introduction of keepsake ultrasound testing and overuse within the medical industry continue to increase, marking the U.S.’ failure to heed these warnings.

But are ultrasound procedures harmful? While many maintain that the use of ultrasound and other non-ionizing radiation procedures are not harmful, the answer is unclear. Aforementioned organizations and doctors such as Dr. Daniel O’Keeffe, Executive VP of the Society for Maternal-Medicine, recommend no more than two ultrasound related procedures per pregnancy in low-risk circumstances. According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly all research regarding the safety of fetal ultrasound procedures on humans was conducted prior to 1992. Since then, the power of acoustic energy permitted for emission by ultrasound equipment has increased roughly 8 times what it was previously. As trends continue to show alarming growth in ultrasound related markets, highlighted by extreme products such as ultrasound home viewing parties and ultrasound image night lights, the search for a solution to reduce exposure and emission rates is becoming more urgent.

While further research will be essential for determining what defines safe ultrasound practices, current advancements in medical image management and exchange may hold the key to curbing the U.S.’ growing ultrasound procedure output. Allowing improved access and control of ultrasound images may serve to increase a physician’s or patient’s confidence during situations in which either may previously have felt the need for an additional ultrasound. When it comes to regulating the use of ultrasound, shouldn’t we be ultra-safe?

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Catherine Slotnick, Marketing Manager

About Catherine Slotnick

Catherine Slotnick is a passionate healthcare marketer with a deep interest in the latest & greatest in the Health IT space. As Ambra Health's marketing manager, Catherine primarily focuses on creating and sharing thought leadership content in the radiology and informatics space. Catherine graduated from the University of Virginia with a BA in Psychology & Art History. When she's not writing, she enjoys cooking and petting dogs that aren't hers.

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