Helpful Questions to Ask When Seeking a Fertility Clinic For IVF
The world of infertility treatment can be overwhelming, with big choices confronting you at every turn. One of your first will be choosing a clinic.
“Fertility treatment is physically and emotionally demanding, and depending on your needs it can be expensive. It’s important to find a clinic and doctor that’s right for you,” says Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority CEO Louise Johnson.
“You can ask your GP for advice about choosing a fertility specialist, but you can also do your own research before committing to a doctor and clinic.”
Luk Rombauts is president of the Fertility Society of Australia. He says if cost is an issue, some fertility clinics offer free nurse chats that will give you a “reasonable idea of the attitude towards customer care and patient centredness.”
We spoke to Ms Johnson and Dr Rombauts for their advice on some of the key questions to ask during your research.
1. Who will be my doctor?
Like choosing between private and public care when planning to deliver your baby, fertility treatment also has “lower-cost” options, explains Dr Rombauts.
You can either choose your doctor through private care, and then consequently visit a clinic they practise at, or you can opt for a service that offers bulk-billing, where you may not get to choose your doctor.
Whatever you decide, Ms Johnson says if at all possible, find a doctor who makes you feel comfortable.
“Before committing to a doctor, you may want to ask if they will be doing all of your consultations and procedures, such as egg pick-up procedures and embryo transfers.”
At some clinics there may be a roster of doctors for procedures, so you might see somebody different each time, she says.
Some clinics also use GPs to undertake initial consultations before you see a fertility specialist.
2. What training has my doctor had?
“Most fellows of the [Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists] won’t have much exposure to fertility treatment, but there is CREI [Certificate of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility] that’s a three-year extra training program,” says Dr Rombauts.
He says you should ask if your fertility specialist has that sub-speciality and training, and if not, do they have on-the-job training, for example.
Ms Johnson says there is a high standard of medical care in Australia, but people should be concerned if they suspect somebody is holding themselves out to be a fertility specialist without medical qualifications.
“Doctors working in fertility clinics must be registered medical practitioners, and all have done extra training, or have additional qualifications, in either gynaecology, obstetrics and/or infertility.
“People can check a health professional’s registration and additional qualifications on the AHPRA website.”
3. What services do you offer? Ask your clinic how often you will be dealing directly with your doctor.
When starting your infertility treatment, it might be helpful to have some basic tests through your GP first to determine what fertility clinic will suit you best.
“Most GPs have a reasonable understanding of what a fertility specialist might require, [and] are quite good at organising an initial screen,” Dr Rombauts says.
You may not need IVF treatment, and some clinics offer a broader range of options.
“Reproductive surgery might be helpful, [but] sometimes it can be an endocrinological or hormonal problem,” he says.
Some services will cater to same-sex couples, so they can be more equipped for donor treatment, according to Ms Johnson.
And some fertility doctors have special areas of interest.
“For example, if you are a man with a particular problem, you may want to visit a clinic with an andrologist (male reproductive health specialist),” Ms Johnson says.
4. What is your success rate?
In Australia, clinics aren’t required to publish their success rates, meaning patients have little way of knowing which are the best or worst performers.
Dr Rombauts says the Fertility Society of Australia is working with the Federal Government to have a more streamlined way of presenting success rate information.
“There are so many different ways you can present your success rates. For example, what is the likelihood you will have a pregnancy? What is the likelihood of a live birth?”
He says clinics will present the results in a way that looks most favourable to their history outcomes.
“It needs to be like food labels — where you can compare one against another.”
He says it’s important patients are offered written information they can take home and think about.
5. What are my chances of success?
As well as asking about the clinic’s success rate, ask about your own potential.
Dr Rombauts says it would be a concern if a clinic was guaranteeing you a baby. And they should also be working from test results before discussing individual outcomes.
Monash University senior research fellow Karin Hammarberg has written about IVF “traps” in the past.
Dr Hammarberg says clinics that use images of “cute babies” where chance of success is described can “make people susceptible to overestimating the potential of having a baby from treatment”.
Ms Johnson recommends asking how the doctor will communicate with you if they think you have a low chance of success, and that it may be best to stop IVF.
6. What is your counselling policy?
Clinics will have different attitudes towards counselling, says Dr Rombauts.
“It’s good to understand what emotional support you will get,” he says.
Ms Johnson says asking what counselling will be available when cycles don’t go well of if you don’t get pregnant are reasonable questions to ask.
7. What will the treatment cost?
When determining cost, it will depend on a lot of factors, including your individual needs.
Ms Johnson recommends asking these three questions as a starting point:
- How much does it cost for an IVF cycle and embryo transfers after Medicare reimbursement?
- What is covered by Medicare and private health insurance and what is not?
- What other treatments may I need to pay for and how much do they cost after Medicare reimbursement?