23 August 2021

Despite a decrease in birth rate, ultrasound searches have soared

The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the entire healthcare sector in 2020, but it proved a particularly difficult situation for expectant mothers to navigate due to increased social distancing measures, reduced access to NHS services, and clinically vulnerable classifications. 

This has had clear repercussions on how pregnant women interact with their antenatal scans and midwifery appointments, with many seeking alternative experiences to NHS provisions in order to feel safer during the pandemic. 

Our analysis of search data shows that there’s been a significant increase in the demand for private scans over the last decade – especially over the last year – as Brits look to reduce their exposure to traditional medical settings during the pandemic. 

Private baby scans double in demand

Despite the NHS continuing to provide routine ultrasound scans for expectant mothers over the last year, search trend analysis reveals that many chose to avoid hospitals amidst Covid-19 and instead sought out private antenatal appointments – particularly around the 12 week mark.

Demand for 12 week baby scans has seen a 15.6% increase over the last decade, while general baby scan queries have risen by more than a third (34.5 percent) over the same period. Although they saw a smaller increase, queries for 4D baby scans also saw a 1.33 percent uptick as the new technology became more widely available.

More expectant mothers are looking for private baby scans than ever before, our analysis of Google data shows, as queries around these have increased by 125.4 percent over the last decade. The pandemic accounted for a large majority of the uptick, as queries for private scans saw a 46.7 percent increase in the last year compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Related searches from the previous 12 months confirms that some of this increase stems from concerns around the virus, as the top result of ‘private baby scans near me’ indicates expectant mothers are wary of travel restrictions when seeking local scan solutions.

This increase in private baby scans also implies that more Brits are looking for improved visibility of their pregnancy in line with new technologies being made available, as a rise in scan searches comes despite a notable drop in birth rates over the last decade. 

In fact, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that the number of live births have dropped by 10 percent since 2011 – going from a monthly average of 57,621 over the last decade to 51,604 in 2020. 

Over the last year, the highest monthly count of live births occurred in July – although data for October-December 2020 is pending release – meaning that late November/early December 2019 likely saw the highest uptake in 12 week private baby scans in recent times.

NHS ultrasound volume and waiting times decrease

An analysis of NHS ultrasound data also shows a wider shift towards private scans, as the average number of scans conducted dropped from 866,844 per month to 691,150 during 2020. 

The pandemic also saw the average number of days patients waited for ultrasound tests to be conducted – following a referral – drop by 26 percent, as it went from 14.42 days to 10.67. This also marks a significant reduction in waiting times compared to 2019, which stood at 14.4 days. 

As the pandemic continues, the impact on scans vs demand is clear. It will also be interesting to see whether the NHS manages to keep waiting times lower once pandemic restrictions are lifted, as deferring to a more significant delay between referrals and tests could further increase the pressures already placed on stretched services.

Our research also showed that there was a 20 percent decrease in the number of scans being carried out. The pandemic can be cited as a cause for this decrease, due to a reduction in services. It does however demonstrate that there is some catching up to do when it comes to the volume of ultrasounds. 

The importance of ultrasound scans as a whole can’t be understated. Not only do they play an important role in antenatal scans, they are also a key part of other treatments. Ultrasounds can be used to scan: 

  • Abdominal and pelvic organs 
  • Muscles and tendons 
  • Heart and blood vessels 

The wide range of uses means that ultrasounds play a role in the diagnostic process for detecting conditions. They can also be used to guide treatments and to detect soft tissue injuries. 

The importance of ultrasound and the volume of scans being needed to catch up to pre-pandemic levels, demonstrates the need to create a more efficient image scan process. This can be done by using technology that is already available, by providers such as ourselves. 

Christian McBride, Client Services Director at Healthnetconnections commented on the importance of streamlining the ultrasound process to meet increased demand. He said: “The 20 percent drop in scans being carried out in 2020 highlights a problem that already existed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic – the need for streamlined systems.

“As the volume of scans starts to increase again, it’s an ideal time to implement those systems that are available to make treatment and care more efficient. Effective image scan technology helps at all levels of treatment and supports clinicians at every step. From the actual scans themselves, right through to the storage of the images and the data, it helps by streamlining the process. 

“We’d encourage anyone interested in seeing the impact of the technology to get in touch and ask how we can help. Everyone at HNC is keen to play our part in helping all levels of the NHS take the next big step towards the end of the pandemic and the return to normality.” 

To see how our remote medical imaging tools and unified scanning solutions can help you pivot your services to meet increased demand amidst the pandemic, please get in touch here.