Home Uncategorized Ontario’s health ministry should leave the ‘entertainment’ ultrasound business alone

Ontario’s health ministry should leave the ‘entertainment’ ultrasound business alone

By | Marni Soupcoff - National Post on May 25 2016

From Uncategorized

PQ: We need to start seriously thinking about the reflexive tendency to greet every problem with beefed-up licensing and regulation.

I kept all the sonogram photos from my pregnancies. No, I didn’t frame these little printouts or create elaborate scrapbooking projects with them. But I did put them in the baby books, and it’s been fun to look at them with my three children over the years, watching the kids try to fathom that they once resembled a cross between a tadpole, an extraterrestrial and a peanut.

The recent story of the Pickering, Ont., commercial imaging business — the sort of place that is sometimes referred to as delivering “entertainment” ultrasounds — that gave dozens of expectant families the exact same 3D sonogram photo, while telling each customer that it was a photo of their own baby, is sad.

What doctors and medical professionals get from sonography is crucial information about the health and status of a fetus — information that can save an unborn baby’s life. However, expectant parents — who are frequently hungry for clues about who the newest member of their family is — get something additional from sonography: a sense of wonder at and bonding with their otherwise unseen child. This bonding is very different from discovering, for example, that a gestating woman’s amniotic fluid is perilously low and medical action must be taken.

During a pregnancy, both facets of sonography are important. But in my view, we do ourselves no favours by conflating them and trying to subject them to the same standards and regulations, or by trying to limit one of the two.

In the wake of this debacle, a spokesman from Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins’s office stated: “As a result of the stories this week, I think it would be appropriate that we also take a look at some of the entertainment, less medically focused (sonography) places.” In other words, the ministry is considering overseeing and reviewing non-medical, “entertainment” sonography — the scans people pay for out of their own pockets to get a closer look at their little ones.

Qualified radiologists warn that the people operating the equipment at these non-medical facilities may not be properly trained. There’s certainly more than a hint of either fraud or incompetence (or potentially both) when every customer who is scanned is given the same image. But this doesn’t justify the health ministry stepping in.

We do want to provide a remedy when businesses don’t produce the goods or services they’ve promised. But that’s what existing fraud laws are for. And this isn’t a medical issue: seeking sentimental souvenirs of, or ways of emotionally connecting with, an unborn baby is understandable and could be beneficial, but it isn’t something we need physicians or radiologists either to facilitate or oversee.

We need to start seriously thinking about the reflexive tendency to greet every problem with beefed-up licensing and regulation. In recent years, Ontario has made it more difficult to practise just about any trade by adding fees and excessive requirements, including requiring double licensing for barbers and electricians, among others.

Sometimes licensing makes sense, especially when a really serious danger is posed by people not doing their jobs competently. Some licensing looks a lot more like protectionism and posturing, especially when flubbing the job would result in a bad week or month for the customer, but cause no physical harm — e.g., a truly lousy haircut, or a 3D photo of someone else’s baby being passed off as your own.

In time, we may learn that sonography poses a significant medical risk to a fetus (though there is so far no evidence to support such a contention, and women with high-risk pregnancies often undergo the procedure frequently, with their babies suffering no apparent ill effects). If that ever becomes the case, then it would be prudent for the health ministry to consider involvement in the “entertainment” sonography field.

Until then, any attempt by the ministry to restrict or rein in non-medical 3D imaging for expectant mothers, which offers real emotional and psychological value for families, is simply uncalled for.

Unscrupulous business people exist in every industry, and consumer protection laws can be useful. But there’s no reason to believe that health bureaucrats would be able to play the role of effective consumer watchdog, since, after all, we are talking about a service that is not covered by public or private health insurance. As parents, shouldn’t people be permitted to seek whatever connections they want with their children, as long as they’re voluntarily willing to bear the risks of heartache or wasted funds?

It’s easy to dismiss “entertainment” sonographers as charlatans cheating pregnant women. But perhaps they are simply people a few steps ahead of the medical field in realizing the demand for, and the value in, low-cost imaging just for the sake of warming the human heart. Right now, that’s legal. I’m not so sure it would be for long if the health ministry got involved.

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