DIY Vaginal Ultrasounds Reduce Doctor Visits

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A new "do-it-yourself" ultrasound method could let women who are undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) cut down on their trips to the doctor's office, a new study suggests.

The technology allows these women to perform vaginal ultrasounds at home, while their doctor views the results from afar.

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During IVF treatment, women are given hormones that trigger their ovaries to produce multiple eggs in one cycle. But although the hormone injections can be done at home, women need to visit the doctor frequently — sometimes five or six times over a two-week period — to monitor how well the treatment is working. They are given a vaginal ultrasound (in which an ultrasound probe is placed into the vagina) to view the ovaries, so the doctor can see whether the eggs are maturing.

The new study suggests it may be possible for women to perform these ultrasounds on themselves, at home. [Future of Fertility Treatment: 7 Ways Baby-Making Could Change]

In the study, 123 women in Belgium who were undergoing IVF were randomly assigned to either home monitoring, or the regular trips to the doctor's office. In the home monitoring group, women were given a laptop with imaging software and a vaginal probe with a USB connection. They were shown how to use the probe to take video recordings of their ovaries, and how to upload and send the videos to their doctor.

After taking an initial sonogram, women in the home monitoring group did not need to visit the doctor until their eggs were ready to be collected, while those in the regular care group made several doctor's visits.

Women in both groups had similar outcomes in terms of the number of eggs that doctors were able to retrieve and the number of fertilized eggs they were able to have implanted. About one-quarter of women in both groups became pregnant.

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And because women in the home monitoring group made fewer doctor's visits, they spent less money on transportation, and took less time off of work. Patients in the home monitoring group were also more satisfied with their treatment.

"Home monitoring … may provide a patient-centered alternative to the standard methods," the researchers, from Ghent University Hospital in Belgium, wrote in the July 3 issue of the journal Human Reproduction. "This approach offers several advantages for patients as well as care providers, including similar results to the traditional methods … and potentially bringing care to patients in poor resource settings."