The use of fetal and neonatal monitoring and diagnostics is growing due to a combination of various factors – higher awareness of expectant mothers about the advantages of sophisticated monitoring, non-invasiveness and greater safety of new prenatal diagnostic techniques, and availability of maternity care reimbursement and insurance coverage in developed countries.
New research from Frost & Sullivan (ti.frost.com), Advances in Fetal/Neonatal Monitoring and Diagnostics, finds that there is a paradigm shift in the present healthcare model at a global level from a mere therapeutic model toward a preventive and predictive model on an individual basis. The result is more effective, personalized and safe therapy, as well as better diagnosis and treatment outcomes.
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"While current procedures such as amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS) reveal genetic abnormalities, they are invasive and could cause damage to fetal and maternal tissues and in some cases, miscarriage," says Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Sangeetha Prabakar. "New non-invasive prenatal diagnostics such as the detection of fetal DNA in maternal blood samples offer a much safer option for both mother and fetus and in the case of the mother, a pain- and trauma-free process."
However, non-invasive fetal testing is currently available only as a clinical research tool in select laboratories in developed countries. Standardization of these test protocols is required to become more accessible for use in regular laboratories at lower costs. The medical advantages of such techniques are significant, especially in countries or ethnic groups that have a higher rate of genetic disorders that are difficult to diagnose, or individuals who cannot afford expensive tests such as amniocentesis or CVS.
Home-based monitoring is a trend that could gain popularity in developing countries in the future. Basic fetal monitoring devices that mothers can use at home are now available in some developed countries. Attractive designs and easy-to-use protocols allow the mother to monitor the fetus’ well-being, fetal heart rate as well as her own blood pressure, temperature, and sugar levels. The data obtained can be recorded and retrieved by the doctor later, enabling the mother to make fewer visits to the clinic.
Neonatal monitoring is seeing a distinct trend toward non-invasive techniques due to the small size of the prematurely born infant. Advances in monitoring technologies in the recent past are allowing a greater number of physiological parameters to be monitored non-invasively such as blood gas, intra-cranial pressure, cerebral blood flow, and biochemicals.
Wireless technologies are also driving fetal and neonatal monitoring in a big way, bringing multiple benefits to patients and healthcare providers such as increased convenience, patient safety, reduced cable costs, remote server access, and universal connection to Bluetooth-enabled phones. Minimally invasive and wireless handheld biosensors that can directly monitor patients’ vital signs and eliminate the need for laboratory testing are other exciting developments in wireless technology.
However, purchasing advanced monitoring equipment implies massive expenditure for hospitals. The general preference is for a one-time and long-term investment and regular equipment servicing and maintenance to delay replacement as much as possible. This cost-saving strategy adopted by hospitals is a major restraint for equipment manufacturers, and prevents them from earning substantial revenues through regular product sales.
"Additionally, consolidation and merging of hospitals leads to sharing of the same NICUs and delivery room beds, and reduces demand for new monitoring equipment," says Prabakar. "With ongoing saturation in the commercial product segments and sales of fetal/maternal/neonatal monitoring equipment, companies must focus on developing additional applications and targeting niche segments or even consider making innovations in product accessories."
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