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Ultrasound Is 'The Best Way to Terrify a Pregnant Woman,' Says One Expert

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"I have no instance in my recollection where one or the other of these abnormalities was the sole reason I was able to recognize a fetus with Down's syndrome in a low risk patient," Filly writes. "Obviously someone has had such an experience, just not me."

Filly, who performed his first ultrasound on a pregnant woman 30 years ago, suggests that most parents may be incapable of comprehending the minuscule nature of these risks well enough to be relieved of their fears, he tells WebMD.

Asked about peoples' ability to comprehend the nature of such risks, and doctors' ability to explain them, Shields says that at the medical center where he works, "the patient is referred to one of the perinatal centers, and seen by a specialist, and can have a follow-up consultation within 24 to 48 hours. ... When there's any doubt as to what's going on, the person should probably be referred to someone who can explain." But he adds that many doctors "have a difficult time saying, 'I really don't know what this means, let's send you to someone who does.'"

Echoing Filly, Shields says that fear of malpractice contributes to driving doctors to tell patients about soft abnormalities. "Misdiagnosis on ultrasound is becoming one of the new [medical-legal] bonanzas. If you state that [the abnormality] is there, you eliminate your risk."

"It is time," Filly writes, "for the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine or the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to convene a panel of experts to analyze the data on this issue and publish a position paper on the practicality of employing the Down's syndrome 'markers' in low risk women at the soonest possible date."

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