Will the introduction of non-invasive prenatal diagnostic testing erode informed choices? An experimental study of health care professionals

02 February 2015

Objective. Informed choice is a fundamental concept within prenatal care. The present study assessed the extent to which the introduction of non-invasive prenatal diagnosis (NIPD) of Down's syndrome may undermine the process of making informed choices to undergo prenatal testing or screening for Down's syndrome by altering the quality and quantity of pre-test counselling. Methods. 231 obstetricians and midwives were randomly allocated one of three vignettes, each describing a different type of test: (a) invasive prenatal diagnosis (IPD), (b) non-invasive prenatal diagnosis (NIPD) or (c) Down's syndrome screening (DSS). Participants were then asked to complete a questionnaire assessing (1) the information considered important to communicate to women, (2) whether test offer and uptake should take place on different days, and (3) whether signed consent forms should be obtained prior to testing. Results. Across the three test types, five out of the seven presented topics were considered equally important to communicate, including the information that testing is the woman's choice. Compared with participants receiving the IPD vignette, those receiving the NIPD and DSS vignettes were less likely to report that counselling and testing should occur on different days (IPD 94.7% versus 74.1% and 73.9% for NIPD and DSS respectively, p = .001) and that written consent was a necessity (IPD 96.1% versus 68.3% and 75.4% for NIPD and DSS respectively, p < .001). Conclusion. This study provides the first empirical evidence to demonstrate that practitioners may view the consent process for NIPD differently to IPD. There is potential for the introduction of NIPD to undermine women making informed choices in the context of prenatal diagnostic testing for conditions like DS. Practice implications. Given the importance of informed choice in reproductive decision-making, implementation of any programme based on NIPD should be designed to facilitate this. Keywords: Informed choice; Prenatal; Down's syndrome; Non-invasive testing