Pregnant women in the dark on prenatal screening
(4 January 2007: VIDYYA MEDICAL NEWS SERVICE) -- Soon-to-be mums admit they feel 'left in the dark' when it comes to being told about the possible implications of prenatal screening - tests which could lead them down a path where they have to make difficult decisions about their unborn child.
A study by Queensland University of Technology has found while doctors, midwives, obstetricians and counsellors agreed prenatal patient eduction was important, many assumed that another practitioner had taken responsibility for delivering the information.
Researcher Eleanor Milligan, from QUT's Applied Ethics Program, said when talking to practitioners it emerged that no-one was charged with ensuring pregnant women were being educated about prenatal screening.
"There is often blurred accountability for patient education between practitioners," Ms Milligan said. "They all agree it is very important but often presume another practitioner has provided it."
Ms Milligan said some doctors felt it was up to obstetricians, midwives often relied on doctors, and counsellors agreed the education process could be "haphazard".
She said as a result many women were simply not being given the information they needed before deciding to undergo prenatal screening.
"For many pregnant women prenatal screening is simply about following what is presented as 'normal routine' without question or comprehension," she said.
"When screening reveals a possible problem, many women feel unprepared and conflicted as the ultimate treatment offered is termination - and this is rarely made clear at the outset."
Ms Milligan said it was also important for women to be informed that the test results did not always provide clear or accurate answers.
"There are many examples where women have had test results showing signs of abnormality but have then gone on to deliver healthy babies," she said.
"The ongoing psychological distress of these 'false positives' is not well documented or researched."
Ms Milligan said the study showed that accepting prenatal screening did not mean soon-to-be mums were giving their 'informed' consent.
"Mothers said they didn't know what information they needed to know until after it was all over...this is a big problem and a major concern for our health care system," she said.
"I think part of the solution is clear education for mothers and support for practitioners to provide this education. It needs to be picked up by the Queensland Government and Queensland Health as an issue and policy and practice needs to change.
"This should also include law reform to make current practice more transparent."
Ms Milligan's research recently won her a highly commended award at the Queensland Health and Medical Research Conference.
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