Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, M.D. Answers Questions On: Prenatal Testing and Ultrasound
How have improvements in prenatal testing and ultrasound led to better treatment for pregnant women and their babies?
Ultrasound is one of the best tools we have to check on the health of a baby during pregnancy. We’ve found that, when needed, we can augment ultrasound with other tools like fetal magnetic resonance (MR), so we’ll perform magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on pregnant women to try to work around some of the limitations that ultrasound might have.
In part because of new technology, we’re performing fewer invasive procedures in women who have more general conditions, such as advanced maternal age. We’re getting better at selecting invasive procedures for patients who have a much higher likelihood of having an abnormal test result.
We also have new technologies and strategies in other areas of prenatal testing that can detect small genetic changes in a developing fetus. That’s very exciting, but we’re still learning what the implications of these may be, such as when something could be a problem and when it is normal.
What should pregnant women look for in physicians who offer ultrasounds and other prenatal tests?
The quality of ultrasound practice in the community can vary a lot from physician to physician. You should know the credentials of the person who performs your ultrasound.
Some providers who offer ultrasounds are unable to interpret what an abnormal finding represents. Then a patient might get referred to a specialist like me. I’ll tell you that a significant portion of those patients who come to see me for suspected anomalies have babies that are perfectly normal. But they’ve gone through this period of time thinking something is wrong with their babies. Or, in the event that there really is an anomaly, they’ve had a delay before they know what the final diagnosis is.
So we encourage people to find out their doctor’s experience in performing and interpreting their ultrasound. Ideally, your provider’s practice will be accredited either by the American Institute for Ultrasound in Medicine or the American College of Radiology.
What advice do you offer your patients with high-risk pregnancies?
Women with high-risk pregnancies whose babies have a health problem will frequently ask, “What did I do wrong?” And it’s important that they understand that in the vast majority of cases, there was nothing that they did wrong. There was nothing that was going to prevent this from occurring, and we have to move forward from there. So even in the most heart-wrenching of situations, my focus is on how do we get the patient and her family members to understand what happened and help them move through the grief process.