Ultrasounds

Ultrasounds are diagnostic imaging techniques using high-frequency sound waves to capture live images of inside the body. Ultrasounds assist with obstetric and gynaecological clinical assessments to determine the location and viability of a pregnancy and number of foetuses. Ultrasounds also assist to measure the baby, estimate gestational age and help identify any structural anomalies (DoH 2019). 

The AIHW conducted analysis for this report using diagnostic imaging MBS items 55700 (i.e. pelvis or abdomen scan related to pregnancy at less than 12 weeks' gestation) through to 55774 (i.e. pelvis or abdomen scan related to pregnancy after 22 weeks' gestation), excluding 55736 and 55739, used in the management of pregnancies. The number of services was aggregated to report a total of all included items.

The number of pregnancy-related ultrasound claims processed remained steady for quarter 1 2018 through to quarter 2 2020, with a noticeable increase in quarter 3 2020. In quarter 3 2020, a total of 362,480 claims for pregnancy related ultrasound were processed (Figure 9). This is 11% higher than the average for the January 2018 to September 2020 period.

Reasons for this increase are yet to be investigated. The increase could reflect some health care providers increasing monitoring in response to potential consequences of COVID-19 infections or service disruptions (RANZCOG 2020; RCOG 2020).

Figure 9: Pregnancy related ultrasound services, by quarter of processing, Australia, 2018-2020

This line chart shows the number of services processed each quarter for pregnancy-related ultrasounds from Quarter 1 2018 through to Quarter 3 2020. In Australia, the number of services processed from Quarter 1 2018 to Quarter 2 2020 ranged from around 318,000 to 329,000 per quarter. In Quarter 3, 2020 there was an increase to around 362,000 pregnancy-related ultrasound services processed, over 10%25 higher than quarter 3, 2019.

Notes:

  1. Quarterly figures may vary due to the varying number of processing days in a quarter, which depends on the number of days in the month/quarter, public holidays, overtime worked, and events such as school holidays that may impact staffing. Additionally, processing may have been impacted by COVID-19.
  2. Refer to Technical Notes for a full list of diagnostic imaging MBS items included in this analysis.

Chart: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Source: AIHW analysis of Medicare Benefits Schedule item reports. Sourced on 12 January 2021.

References

DoH (Australian Government Department of Health). 2019. Clinical Practice Guidelines: Pregnancy Care. Canberra: DoH. Viewed 20 November 2020

RANZCOG (The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists). 2020. A message for pregnant women and their families. Melbourne: RANZCOG. Viewed 20 November 2020

RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists). 2020. Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in pregnancy. Information for healthcare professionals. United Kingdom. Version 12: Published 14 October 2020.