Implementation of a fetal ultrasound telemedicine service: women’s views and family costs

Vikki Smith*, Alison Marshall, Mabel Lie, Elaine Bidmead, Bob Beckwith, Elisabeth Van Oudgaarden, Stephen C. Robson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Background
The complexity of fetal medicine (FM) referrals that can be managed within obstetric units is dependent on the availability of specialist ultrasound expertise. Telemedicine can effectively transfer real-time ultrasound images via video-conferencing. We report the successful introduction of a fetal ultrasound telemedicine service linking a specialist fetal medicine (FM) centre and a remote obstetric unit.

Methods
Over a four-year period from October 2015, all women referred for FM consultation from the obstetric unit were seen via telemedicine, excluding cases where invasive testing, intrauterine therapy or cardiac anomalies were anticipated. The outcomes measured included the indication for FM referral; scan duration and image and sound quality during the consultation. Women’s perceptions of the telemedicine consultation and estimated costs to attend the FM centre were measured by a structured questionnaire completed following the first telemedicine appointment during the Phase 1 of the project.

Results
Overall, 297 women had a telemedicine consultation during Phase 1 (pilot and evaluation) and Phase 2 (embedding and adoption) of the project, which covered a 4 year period 34 women completed questionnaires during the Phase 1 of the study. Travel to the telemedicine consultation took a median (range) time of 20 min (4150), in comparison to an estimated journey of 230 min (120,450) to the FM centre. On average, women would have spent approximately £28 to travel to the FM centre per visit. The overall costs for the woman and her partner/ friend to attend the FM centre was estimated to be £439.

Women were generally satisfied with the service and valued the opportunity to have a FM consultation locally.

Conclusions
We have demonstrated that a fetal ultrasound telemedicine service can be successfully introduced to provide FM ultrasound of sufficient quality to allow fetal diagnosis and specialist consultation with parents. Furthermore, the service is acceptable to parents, has shown a reduction in family costs and journey times.
Original languageEnglish
Article number38
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Volume21
Issue number1
Early online date8 Jan 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Jan 2021

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