Fertile ground? How private IVF can profit from putting patients first

Google ‘mumsnet’, ‘infertility’ and ‘confused’, and up pops a whopping 19 pages of online discussion – women, new to the world of IVF who complain of treatment discussions that leave them feeling ‘rushed’, ‘going around in circles,’ and ‘in need of reassurance’ that they’ve chosen the right course.

The miraculous technology of IVF is now part of our ordinary lives. In the UK alone, more than 70,000 treatments take place every year resulting in the birth of around 20,000 babies. But for the women who would otherwise remain involuntarily childless, if not for an array of reproductive options, the pathway is far from simple.

Last month, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) teamed up with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) to host the first ever non-commercial fertility information event. Their research had highlighted that many women struggle with confusing and contradictory fertility advice.

The ‘Fertility Forum’ was an opportunity for women and their partners to speak to experts and take away evidence-based, unbiased information. The need was highlighted by a RCOG survey, which found that four out of five women found information from different sources contradictory. Three out of five are overwhelmed by the mass of information on offer.

It’s no surprise.

IVF Culture Change

Last year, the HFEA – which acts as the government’s fertility regulator – called for a ‘culture change’ among IVF clinics. Practises were accused of putting profits before patient care by charging clients for expensive extras that have no proven effectiveness – add-ons like time-lapse imaging of embryos, drug treatments that suppress a mother’s immune system, techniques like assisted hatching that thin the protein-coating from which an embryo must break out before it can implant in the womb. The upshot is that private patients (who represent 60 per cent of the market) often pay double or triple the watchdog’s benchmark of £3-£5,000, as a reasonable fee for a single cycle of IVF.

The need, the HFEA concluded, was for ‘an open and honest conversation’ to help couples cut through the confusion. But who should participate in the conversation and how do we prevent treatment for a condition that the World Health Organization formally recognises as a ‘disease of the reproductive system’ from being principally approached as a commercial opportunity?

Partnering with Patients

Here at Aurora, our expertise in women’s health ranges from contraception to fertility, from heavy menstrual bleeding to pregnancy wellbeing and to menopause, as well as cancers – including ovarian, breast and cervical. At every step, our approach is to involve patients as partners and co-create programmes based on their insights. To this end, Aurora has formed an exclusive collaboration with PIPHealth, a patient research company whose vision is to make the world more ‘patient intelligent’©. Through this involvement, Aurora becomes the first and only strategic communications agency with their own patient panel to consult. It gives us and our clients access to thousands of patients in Europe and the UK so we can carry out quantitative and qualitative patient research and gather rapid insights.

Some of the intelligence relates to the mindset of women undergoing protracted infertility treatment. Often times couples abandon treatment – not because they’ve depleted financial resources or treatment options – but because the psychological toll is too great. They can’t face the emotional roll of ‘one more try’.

According to the HFEA, patient complaints are increasing, but simple steps could greatly improve how they are dealt with.

Here are some thoughts

o Patient concerns should be addressed promptly and thoroughly to provide support to the patient which is necessary for high quality care
o Doing this will also resolve the issue, so it doesn’t go on to become a full complaint requiring investigation
o Clinics can improve by making their complaints process clear and accessible to patients and regularly ask for feedback
o Many complaints begin with a seemingly small mistake on behalf of the clinic, often down to miscommunication. A slow or poor response can lead to a breakdown of trust and a poor quality of experience for the patient

If you’d like to find out more about how to increase your patient understanding further, contact us at hello@auroracomms.com

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