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ABSTRACT: Background: Ultrasound has become a routine part of care for pregnant women in most countries with developed health services. It is one of a range of techniques used in screening and diagnosis, but it differs from most others because of the direct access that it gives parents to images of the fetus. A review of women's views of ultrasound was commissioned as part of a larger study of the clinical and economic aspects of routine antenatal ultrasound use.

Methods: Studies of women's views about antenatal screening and diagnosis were searched for on electronic databases. Studies about pregnancy ultrasound were then identified from this material. Further studies were found by contacting researchers, hand searches, and following up references. The searches were not intentionally limited by date or language. Studies that reported direct data from women about pregnancy ultrasound were then included in a structured review. Studies were not excluded on the basis of methodological quality unless they were impossible to understand. They were read by one author and tabulated. The review then addressed a series of questions in a nonquantitative way.

Results: The structured review included 74 primary studies represented by 98 reports. Studies from 18 countries were included, and they employed methods ranging from qualitative interviewing to psychometric testing. The review included studies from the very early period of ultrasound use up to reports of research on contemporary practice. Ultrasound is very attractive to women and families. Women's early concerns about the safety of ultrasound were rarely reported in more recent research. Women often lack information about the purposes for which an ultrasound scan is being done and the technical limitations of the procedure. The strong appeal of diagnostic ultrasound use may contribute to the fact that pregnant women are often unprepared for adverse findings.

Conclusions: Despite the highly varied study designs and contexts for the research included, this review provided useful information about women's views of pregnancy ultrasound. One key finding for clinicians was the need for all staff, women, and partners to be well informed about the specific purposes of ultrasound scans and what they can and cannot achieve. (BIRTH 29:4 December 2002)