May 24, 2024
N.S. mom calls for better ultrasound access after private clinic reveals twins  | Globalnews.ca

N.S. mom calls for better ultrasound access after private clinic reveals twins | Globalnews.ca

Taija Howard wouldn’t know she was carrying twins if she hadn’t paid out-of-pocket for a private ultrasound.

When Howard was about seven or eight weeks into her pregnancy, her family doctor sent a referral to get an ultrasound done at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

But she never got a call to book an appointment.

A few weeks later, at the end of her first trimester, Howard decided to get an ultrasound done at a private clinic for “peace of mind” ahead of a trip. There, she found out she was having twins.

“Craziest 10 minutes of my life,” she said.

Had she not gotten the private ultrasound done, she wouldn’t have known about the bonus baby until her next OBGYN appointment at 20 weeks – more than four months into the pregnancy.

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“So now we get to celebrate and be happy about it, rather than scared or worried about the unknowns,” she said.

Howard, who already has an 18-month-old child, said she had no problems getting hospital ultrasounds for her previous pregnancy.

She’s now preparing to move to a bigger home ahead of the twins’ arrival.

‘Resource issues’

It’s recommended that people receive an ultrasound in the first trimester of pregnancy – about eight weeks in for the most accuracy, according to Dr. Heather Scott, the head of the IWK Health Centre’s obstetrics division.


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This “dating” ultrasound provides an early assessment of the pregnancy, and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommends that one be performed for every pregnant person.

But currently, the IWK is behind on doing dating ultrasounds due to a lack of ultrasound sonographers.

“There are some resource issues,” said Dr. Heather Scott, head of the IWK’s division of obstetrics. “A few things have changed over the years that have really placed a lot of pressure on diagnostic imaging, and specifically our ultrasound departments.”

She said there had been a “sudden loss” of five sonographers who went to work elsewhere, leading to a “critical” shortage of staff who can do timely dating ultrasounds in the first trimester.

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“Depending on when the request has gone in for the ultrasound, they may actually not be reaching the target of having it done in the appropriate time frame,” she said. “And I’m sure that that is causing anxiety to pregnant individuals who know that that’s outside of the recommended time frame.”

Janae Brothers of the private provider Mommy & Me Ultrasounds in Bedford said the company sees a lot of first-time moms, as well as mothers in their first trimester of pregnancy.

“We’ve been having a lot more conversations with moms who are noting that they’re not getting dating ultrasounds, and they’re not seeing the regular medical scans quite as soon as they usually would,” she said.

Brothers said it’s important for new moms to know they have options if they can’t get into a medical centre.

“Stress is really not great for pregnancies, so we really do feel grateful that we’re able to let moms hear the heartbeat, see that baby is moving, looking OK,” she said. “Where we’re non-diagnostic, we can’t get too much into detail, but just the peace of mind has been really helpful for moms that come in.”

But Dr. Scott said while private ultrasound providers can be used for “recreational” purposes – like getting pictures of the baby – she is concerned about the quality of care in private clinics and whether the information being provided is accurate.

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She said she is saddened that expectant parents feel the need to visit private clinics to get an ultrasound.

“It’s also not keeping with our universal health care. This should be a service that is provided and is covered by our health-care system,” she said. “If people are feeling that they need to turn to private clinics for medical reasons, I see that as very problematic.”

While the IWK is working to increase their number of ultrasound sonographers, Scott said there are shortages across the province.

Now that Howard knows she’s having twins, her doctor has sent another referral to the IWK in the hopes of getting further testing done.

Howard said she is fortunate to have a flexible job, family supports, a family doctor, and a previous pregnancy to help with the process. But she’s concerned by the delays in getting dating ultrasounds, and worries about the impacts on other expectant parents – such as those who don’t have a family doctor or can’t afford private care.

“Had I not had a family doctor or previous pregnancy, I don’t know what I would do, or who I would ask, or where you go for any of that,” she said. “To go halfway through a pregnancy with no reassurance is very, very frightening.”

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