For more than half a century, ultrasound and Doppler have been the two main technologies used to administer screening and diagnostic tests during pregnancy.
These tests provide the fundamental markers and metrics that assess and track fetal health, development, and growth. As ultrasound and Doppler are noninvasive, these can be administered as early as the sixth week of gestation, and are generally done at various time points throughout the nine months.
Over the long term, regular ultrasound exams during pregnancy, coupled with health care for both mother and fetus, can contribute to the management of care for mothers and infants by forestalling and limiting prenatal and postpartum complications for both. Strong case management also yields effective cost of care management and claims experience, from gestation to birth and beyond.
BackgroundFetal medicine encompasses several medical specialties, including cardiology, neurology, maternal-fetal medicine, genetics, and more. Its focus is on optimizing prenatal and postpartum care for both fetus and mother.
Ultrasound, as a tool for both screening and diagnosis, has become an integral component of fetal medicine. First introduced in the mid-1950s in Scotland, its use has since spread throughout the world. Advances over the years include refinements enabling placenta location and detailed fetal biometry in the 1960s, and the ability to detect fetal weight and intrauterine growth restricted (IUGR) fetuses in the 1970s. Routine ultrasound screening was first introduced in the late 1970s, increasing the identification of pregnancies with fetuses at risk. Transvaginal transducers were introduced in the mid-1980s, providing far better imagery, and Doppler imaging become incorporated around the same time.
Today, doctors start looking for fetal pathologies as early as possible in a pregnancy – even as early as Week 6 – and continue to test each trimester in order to ensure development is on target. Ultrasound enables clinicians to study fetal anatomy and physiology in unusually fine detail, detect the manifestations of genetic and developmental abnormalities, and even take corrective steps while the fetus is still developing as well as postpartum.
Ultrasound tests and fetal healthMaternal health is closely linked to fetal and newborn health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pregnancy or childbirth complications are the cause of death for more than half a million women worldwide every year (about 830 a day) – complications frequently identifiable via ultrasound. More than 99% of these deaths occur in underdeveloped or developing countries.
WHO also estimates that approximately 15 million babies worldwide (5% to 18% of births) are born prematurely (defined as less than 37 weeks gestation) every year. Preterm birth is the leading cause of prenatal mortality worldwide: the global infant mortality rate, according to the United Nations World Population Progress report, is 49.4 per 1,000. Again, most are in underdeveloped countries.
Detection of fetal and maternal health conditions early in a pregnancy is vital, because it permits the implementation of prevention and surveillance measures, which can improve prognoses, while the lack of such information can result in high economic and quality of life costs. In the U.S., for example, medical costs of caring for preterm babies and babies born with genetic malformations are among the highest-cost claims seen under health policies: RGA has seen claims in the U.S. market for close to US$2 million. While costs in other markets may not be as high, this type of claim can rank among the most expensive.
Timely fetal diagnoses improve fetal and maternal survival rates, strengthen short- and long-term prognoses of fetuses with congenital diseases, manifested genetic abnormalities and more, and improves prognoses for mothers experiencing health complications. Read More +