Keepsake entrepreneurs target parents in Europe

October 5, 2005

Keepsake ultrasound, which has rapidly become a buzzword in the U.S., refers to the provision of nonmedical fetal videos and prenatal portraits to pregnant women and their families. Companies such as 3DbabyVu, Peek-A-Boo Baby, and Womb With a View are using seductive marketing slogans such as "Fruit of the womb" and "Mommy tummy tours, we believe in love at first sight."

Keepsake ultrasound, which has rapidly become a buzzword in the U.S., refers to the provision of nonmedical fetal videos and prenatal portraits to pregnant women and their families. Companies such as 3DbabyVu, Peek-A-Boo Baby, and Womb With a View are using seductive marketing slogans such as "Fruit of the womb" and "Mommy tummy tours, we believe in love at first sight."

Like it or not, this term looks set to become more familiar to Europeans, as keepsake operations begin to arrive here.

Baby Premier, for example, claims to offer a full range of obstetric and gynecologic examinations in the U.K. They range from a bonding, nonmedical 2D/4D scan performed at 24 to 32 weeks and costing from Pound Sterling 195 (about Euro 285) to a fetal gender scan performed at 20+ weeks and costing Pound Sterling 95. The managing director and medical director, Dr. David Nicholson, is a radiologist, and a qualified sonographer or doctor performs every procedure. Dozens of competitors, including Babyview and Life Before Birth, provide a service in the U.K., and similar businesses are being established across Europe.

Some observers regard this trend as unimportant and harmless. If people wish to spend their cash on such items, why should the global imaging community care, given its other, more urgent problems?

Such a relaxed approach is unwise because the uncontrolled growth of keepsake ultrasound raises justifiable concerns. A pregnant woman could misinterpret an examination performed for entertainment or emotional reasons as a medical procedure and assume a false sense of security. Also, a fetus may be exposed for prolonged periods to high ultrasound intensities, especially when operators are inexperienced.

These concerns have led U.S. regulators and professional organizations to issue a series of strong statements and guidelines. The latest came in August, when the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine focused on potential ethical violations by accredited ultrasound practitioners and devised three categories of fetal keepsake imaging (see www.diagnosticimaging.com, online news story, 25 August). European associations and authorities are likely to follow the lead of these U.S. groups by closely monitoring the situation.

Arguably, the most authoritative and sensible statement on this topic came from ECRI, formerly the Emergency Care Research Institute, and was quoted as follows in Diagnostic Imaging (January 2005, p. 61):

"Fetal ultrasound for nonmedical, entertainment purposes is being inappropriately performed and marketed to pregnant women and their families. Although no adverse effects have been associated with routine ultrasound examinations, the biological effects of casual, longer exposure to ultrasound are unknown. Fetal ultrasound examinations for keepsake or entertainment purposes can result in unnecessary follow-up tests and added cost of care."