Iris Rodgers needed an emotional break from the stress of her job as a registered diagnostic sonographer in high-risk maternal fetal medicine.
So she and her husband, Carlos, pooled $100,000 from personal savings and family investors to open 3D Maternity Imaging, a non-diagnostic ultrasound studio that offers families a joyful experience — seeing their unborn bundle of joy.
The Rodgers’ New Hyde Park business resonates with a feel-good ambience with its purple and lavender walls and images of expectant women. The viewing room — with a sign that reads “Womb with a View” above its entrance — includes a couch for family and friends, a 60-inch screen for observing the fetus in real time, and an ultrasound table and machine, which can be curtained off for the mother’s privacy.
Although the business, which has grown from three to 30 clients since opening in 2014, is not yet profitable and Rodgers still works part-time at a practice for high-risk pregnancies, she “isn’t coming home miserable after a day of work, so that makes it all worthwhile,” said Carlos Rodgers, 37, who handles the business side while Iris, 32, does the sonograms.
A decade after Tom Cruise was blasted for purchasing an ultrasound machine to keep tabs on his daughter-in-utero, non-diagnostic sonogram firms like 3D Maternity represent a small but developing niche business on Long Island.
Today the region is home to half a dozen non-medical ultrasound firms that reveal the fetus’ gender while providing a window into prenatal life — in 2D black and white pictures, so-called 3D color photos, and 4D, or moving images. They’re sometimes called “reveal centers,” because family and friends can be invited to learn the baby’s gender.
Assorted packages, which include the ultrasound, can range from $50 to $400, depending on the number of sessions and the keepsakes offered, such as prints, photo CDs, DVDs with the entire scan, and a teddy bear with a recording of the baby’s heartbeat. A la carte items can include the prenatal image on a Christmas ornament.
On Long Island, registered diagnostic sonographers own many of the businesses. Generally, they also work part- or full-time as sonographers in physician offices and health care facilities.
A firm that operates 20 hours a week can generate about $120,000 a year in gross revenues after five years, according to industry experts. Prices for ultrasound machines range from $35,000 to $100,000, depending on the quality of the image and whether the machine is new or used, they say.
Overall, owners said their revenues increase 10 percent to 15 percent annually, thanks to such factors as repeat customers, word-of-mouth referrals, social media ads, coupons and baby expos.
Moiz Hasan, 63, a registered sonographer for 24 years and the owner of 11-year-old Impact Medical Technologies in Hicksville, said he has scored clients from doctors’ and customers’ recommendations and brochures distributed in medical offices.
Hasan, who also performs diagnostic ultrasounds in nursing homes, sees about 15 expectant mothers a week during the 18 to 20 hours he works in his ultrasound office.
After patronizing Impact to see their unborn daughters, now ages 1 and 3, Floral Park residents Melissa Ricco, 34, and her husband, Anthony, 37, returned last month for a preview of their son, due in January.
Describing their recent visit as “wonderful” and “fun,” Anthony Ricco added, “I still carry the pictures of both my daughters.”
While customers enjoy the experience and treasure the mementos, several groups, including the American Pregnancy Association and the Food and Drug Administration, believe ultrasound machinery should only be used upon a physician’s request, for diagnostic reasons and by a trained technician.
Ultrasounds are safe for fetal scanning, but “it’s important to limit fetal exposure,” said Dr. Deborah Levine, a radiology professor at Harvard Medical School. “We don’t know whether these centers make sure the machines are appropriately calibrated, the scanning is done at appropriate settings or the person has the appropriate training.”
Ultrasound scans, or sonography, use high-frequency sound waves or echoes to make an image, instead of radiation.
Levine added that “inadequately trained or supervised people performing the ultrasound might not recognize an anomaly.” Within the Boston area, though, she said she hasn’t seen evidence of misuse.
On Long Island many firms only accept women who are under a physician’s care, and they let clients know their service is purely non-diagnostic and for keepsake photos. But should something suspicious appear on the screen, they will notify the expectant mother’s doctor or advise her to do so.
“As long as you are a professional in the field and have gone through training, it’s OK, because you understand the physics and mechanics of the machine,” said Christina Lancer, 39, a registered diagnostic medical sonographer for 15 years and the owner of Baby’s 1st Appearance in Port Jefferson.
Lancer, who still scans in two ob-gyn practices, launched her business 7½ years ago after learning that local patients were traveling as far away as Staten Island to score 3D and 4D images. Devoting three days a week to Baby’s 1st, Lancer sees about 25 to 30 clients a week.
“This business is not something that can sustain you as your only income,” Lancer noted. “You’d have to charge way too much, and because there are so many on Long Island, and only so many pregnant people in one year, you lower prices and give sale prices but still have to pay your rent.”
For Kumar Sharma, 61, who owns the eight-employee My 3D 4D Sonograms in Hauppauge, his company’s value rests in its synergy with his other ventures, which are housed in the same space and include skin-care and weight-loss services.
“Everyone gains weight during pregnancy,” Sharma said, “and one patient can really feed into other businesses.”
What it costs
Non-diagnostic ultrasound firms sell printed photos, CDs with 2D black and white or 3D color pictures, DVDs with 4D moving images, and teddy bears with a recording of the baby’s heartbeat. Here’s an overview of what the packages generally cost and include:
- $55 to $70: 2D imaging with 1 to 4 prints and CD
- $135 to $150: 3D/4D imaging with 3 to 6 prints, CD, DVD, heartbeat teddy bear
- $195 to $250: 3D/4D imaging; 1 or 2 visits, 3 to 8 prints, CD each visit, DVD each visit, heartbeat teddy bear
- $350 to $400: 3D/4D imaging; 2 or 3 visits, 6 to 16 prints, CD each visit, DVD each visit, heartbeat teddy bear