The Issue with Keepsake Ultrasounds

Every cousmiling 3rd triple of weeks, the AIUM office receives a call from a reporter asking about keepsake (or entertainment) ultrasounds. Most of these calls result from a keepsake ultrasound facility opening in the community. A number of them came when the FDA reaffirmed its warning against the practice. Occasionally we get the oddball like the one about the ultrasound booth at a flea market.

Regardless of why the AIUM receives the call or inquiry, our response is the same. Since 1999, the AIUM has had the following official position:

“The AIUM advocates the responsible use of diagnostic ultrasound and strongly discourages the non-medical use of ultrasound for entertainment purposes. The use of ultrasound without a medical indication to view the fetus, obtain images of the fetus, or determine the fetal gender is inappropriate and contrary to responsible medical practice. Ultrasound should be used by qualified health professionals to provide medical benefit to the patient.”

AIUM, and a number of other professional associations in the U.S. and other countries, discourage the entertainment use of ultrasound for several reasons, including:

  1. The lack of training of the individuals obtaining the images. When it comes to keepsake ultrasound facilities, there are no regulations governing training requirements for those obtaining the images, either through certification or accreditation.
  2. The concern about potential biological effects that could result from scanning for a prolonged period, inappropriate use of color or pulsed Doppler ultrasound without a medical indication, or excessive thermal or mechanical index settings. As stated in the FDA’s position, “ultrasound can heat tissues slightly, and in some cases, it can also produce very small bubbles (cavitation) in some tissues.”
  3. The potential that pregnant women will visit a keepsake ultrasound facility in lieu of routine prenatal appointments with their medical doctor.

Despite government and medical association warnings against the use of keepsake ultrasounds, the number of facilities performing these scans appears to be increasing. Many theorize that this increase has been driven by the use of 3D ultrasound technology which provides detailed, in-depth images of the fetus and its appeal to expecting parents.

As the number of facilities increases, some states have taken action to ban the practice of keepsake ultrasounds based on the reasons outlined above. In 2009 Connecticut became the first state to ban keepsake ultrasounds. It took 5 years for the second state to take a similar action. Oregon’s law took effect in January of 2014.

Although the issue of keepsake ultrasounds has been around for decades, the recent proliferation of facilities offering this service has prompted action by medical organizations, the federal government, and state governments. Only time will determine the ultimate fate of keepsake ultrasound practices. Until then, the AIUM will continue to advocate for the responsible use of medical ultrasound.

What’s your take on keepsake/entertainment ultrasounds? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.