Elective 3D Ultrasound Businesses – How Safe Are They?
This post calls out to all the expectant moms looking for early gender ultrasounds from elective 3D ultrasound, privately-owned, non-medical businesses. Regardless of what they advertise, please read this first before scheduling your visit! Moms, just do your homework. You have a right to know before you go!
Just look at this shot! It’s so precious, isn’t it? Who couldn’t fall in love with their little one more and more with every great sweep of the probe? Heck, I fall in love with your baby with every image like this that I take!
We, in OB/GYN healthcare, understand expectant parents’ desire for images like this, but the safety of you and your baby is the greatest concern for all of us in the field. And there are a few important factors to take into consideration before having your scan performed by a non-medical facility. As a non-medical facility, they are not required to meet the same standards as your doctor’s office.
Why I Cannot Endorse Elective 3D Ultrasound Non-Medical Businesses
The biggest issue I have with these business is something that may surprise you. They are not required to employ certified staff. Anyone can buy a machine, start a business, and charge you to scan your baby, but they don’t have to be a formally-educated or certified sonographer themselves or hire them. Scary, isn’t it??
Some years back, I was mailed a flyer from an elective 3D ultrasound business. The goal? To sell you your own entertainment ultrasound business by offering a franchise and ultrasound education in a matter of days…for anyone off the street with no prior ultrasound knowledge or training. Before this, I had no idea such a business was even legal.
As a certified OB sonographer for 25 years, I can vouch for the level of knowledge and skill we learn initially and acquire over time, through clinical experience and performing diagnostic examinations. Most importantly, our education and experience also applies to the equipment we use to scan you. Anyone performing OB ultrasound should be utilizing the ALARA principle – and any formally-educated sonographer knows what this is. Basically, we learn how to optimize power settings in order to use the lowest level needed to obtain a good image. This is recommended by the medical community because long-term effects of ultrasound are still being researched. Someone who is not formally-trained likely has no knowledge of how to do this or even know it exists.
Ask about RDMS credentials (or DMS, meaning they have recently graduated).
Equipment Maintenance and Safety
They are not required to maintain safety standards for their equipment. Machines need maintenance to ensure they are performing properly and safely. Cracked probes and cords that are worn, old, and/or not properly cleaned or maintained can be an electrical hazard to their customers. Maintenance is costly, and I just have to wonder how many of these businesses elect to bypass it because they can. You may not necessarily know whether their equipment is safe.
No Physician on Site
Though not a diagnostic exam, a physician is not on site in case a problem is detected. And detecting an obvious problem is much less likely for someone not formally trained.
Now, let’s address fetal sex. After all, most of you who are super anxious to find out if you can shop for pink or blue want to know as early as possible! Most of these places advertise 100% accuracy of fetal sex guesses from 12 or 14 Weeks. This is irresponsible and something they actually cannot do. They can’t guarantee a gender guess is 100% accurate. They can only guarantee you a refund if they’re wrong. I’m sure you many of you wouldn’t consider handing over your money if you knew this is what they meant by their “guarantee.”
A guess too early in pregnancy is a toss-up. You are paying good money, and in some cases, a lot of it. How qualified is the guess if the person scanning you isn’t certified with a level of OB ultrasound experience? Furthermore, any obstetrician or radiologist will tell you that no ultrasound can be considered 100% accurate. As a matter of fact, even DNA blood tests for first-trimester genetics or amniocentesis cannot boast of 100% accuracy – these tests are 99+% accurate. Ultrasound cannot come close to this in the first trimester.
My advice to a mom- or family-to-be is to keep an open mind regarding a sex guess too early and to wait for your anatomy screen before investing in paint!
They Do Not Perform a Diagnostic Exam
But sometimes they say or advertise that they do. Some of them even call themselves a diagnostic imaging center. They’ll tell you that they’ll scan a little to make sure Baby is okay. I believe this gives the expectant parent a false sense of security. No sonographer can legally tell you your baby appears normal by ultrasound.
Please be aware that no one can call an elective ultrasound scan “diagnostic” in any way! Your healthcare professional must order a diagnostic exam. You must be scanned by a certified sonographer in a medical facility where at least one physician is on site. Finally, an official report must be generated for a physician’s interpretation and signature.
No one scanning in an elective 3D ultrasound business can promise a diagnostic test!
Finally, they don’t have to advertise any of the above! They have no requirements to inform you of any of the issues above. If you ask, they have to answer honestly. So, be sure to ask!
A Message To Those Who Are Not Qualified to Scan!!!
Make no mistake about it. Waiver or not, if you scan a pregnant woman for fun and miss a problem, you are still liable. You are not trained to recognize these problems or how to handle them. How would you handle seeing something you feel is abnormal or that you cannot explain? What would you say? If you cannot call yourself a formally-educated sonograper, you have no business picking up a probe. Most of us who practice OB every day only get slightly better at breaking terrible news. This unfortunate experience will inevitably be yours at some point.
Moreover, you don’t know how to use the equipment safely or optimally. It takes a bit of artistry, (again) proper training, and experience to be able to create good 2D images – also needed in order to create good 3D images. Providing sub-standard images takes advantage of the customer paying for it, especially when they assume you know what you are doing.
Anyone can set up a 60″ monitor and some comfy seating. Anyone can show you how to press a few buttons. It doesn’t mean you can call yourself a sonographer. If this is your goal, go to school and learn how to do it the right way. Also, it doesn’t mean you are providing a fair service for the money.
Please Do Your Research on 3D Ultrasound Non-Medical Businesses!
Know before you go, ladies! Call in advance to ask if the person scanning you is a certified sonographer with OB experience and not a former used-car salesman. If not, you would be better off with this elective scan at your doctor’s office instead. A sonographer there is far more likely to detect an obvious problem. And your doctor or another physician would be in-house to discuss it with you and answer your questions.
I’ve made it no secret in my past posts that I’m not a fan of these cash cows. I believe that non-medical personnel should not be scanning pregnant women or utilizing medical equipment.
These businesses were borne of the expectant parents’ desire to see their baby at will, to bond with their baby, and to share with their families a special event. We understand this movie theater experience isn’t something you can receive at your doctor’s office, but the first and foremost concern is the health of you and your baby. I think any expectant mom would agree.
Even though this can be a fun experience for the family, the potential for serious issues is real. We can’t tell you not to go, but please do your homework first! If nothing else, ensure the person scanning you is qualified to do so! Educate yourself, and make an informed decision.
Best wishes for happy and healthy!
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Thanks for reading!