Unnecessary ultrasounds on the rise for low-risk pregnancies

In 2014, pregnant women underwent fetal-ultrasound procedures an average of 5.2 times per delivery, a 92 percent increase over the previous decade, according to the Wall Street Journal.

With help from FAIR Health Inc., a nonprofit aggregator of insurance claims, the WSJ analyzed claims of 150 million individuals and found a large spike in fetal-ultrasound procedures, calling into question the medical necessity of those additional procedures. Medical societies, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, recommend no more than two ultrasounds for low-risk pregnancies.

Although the analysis focuses primarily on the safety concerns surrounding unnecessary ultrasounds, the reason for the additional procedures is unclear. Some experts believe physicians were unaware of the current recommendations for two ultrasounds, while others surmised that medical malpractice fears and pressure from patients led physicians to provide the tests, sometimes free of charge. But at least one expert wondered if there were financial reasons tied to some of unnecessary tests.

"I suspect that some of this is padding their wallet," Jeffrey A. Kuller, M.D., an obstetrics professor at Duke University, told WSJ.  

In December, the FDA issued a warning against unnecessary fetal ultrasounds. Although the WSJ analysis didn't account for necessary ultrasounds for high-risk pregnancies, previous surveys have shown that three-quarters of physicians believe their colleagues prescribe unnecessary tests each week.

For more:
- read the WSJ article

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