Earlier this week, ABC News published an article on the IVF industry and the stories many men and women, who had undergone IVF, had to share. Stories that have gone untold. Until now.
“The whole process left me feeling like a number as opposed to a person. The IVF clinic felt more like a baby factory than anything else,” said Rebecca.
“My fertility specialist patted me on the hand and said, ‘Your old ovaries have given up’,” one shared.
“It felt like I was given the same treatment as every other patient at the clinic.”
After this patient changed specialists, she was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis — a chronic disease which can affect fertility. According to this patient, endometriosis had never been investigated or considered as contributing to her infertility.
These are just some of the chilling sentiments medical journalists, Sophie Scott and Angela McCormack, captured in their recent article titled IVF is big business in Australia — but these people are calling the industry out.
So why are we talking about it?
As qualified Chinese Medicine Doctors and Acupuncturists whose clinical focus is in supporting fertility and IVF patients, we feel a sense of responsibility to speak up and share our perspective on what the IVF experience should be like.
We shared the ABC News article with Sustain Health’s Chief Chinese Medicine Practitioner and Acupuncturist, Dr Scott Ling (BMed, MRMed, PhDChinMed), to get his views.
But before we share Dr Scott Ling’s response, let’s look at the key problems called out in the ABC article.
More than two-thirds of the 2,000 of respondents interviewed agreed that undergoing fertility treatments had a “significant” impact on either their mental or physical health.
Both IVF specialists and patients commented on a number of issues they observed and experienced.
A Western Australia mother described the “soulless” and unsuccessful experience she had with a fertility clinic 23 years ago.
Another says, “Patients should be given realistic information about their personal chance of success, potential risks and the likely cost of treatment, taking into account their age and health, before they begin the process”.
Professor Michael Chapman, a senior fertility specialist from IVF Australia, comments “There is a difference between the premium, more expensive clinics and the cheaper clinics in the depth of support that they’re able to provide, and it’s purely a resources issue”.
The article concludes by bringing into question:
“How can patients avoid spending outrageous sums of money to start a family? How can clinics find a way to make their patients feel less alone? Will unproven and costly ‘add-on’ treatments be more tightly regulated? Will ‘success rates’ published by clinics become more transparent?”
This is what Dr Scott Ling shares in response to each question.
Question 1: How can patients avoid spending outrageous sums of money to start a family?
“First of all, let’s be clear. Not all infertility cases are medical conditions,” says Dr Scott. “a lot of them can be unexplainable. Sometimes reducing stress itself can help boost fertility but sometimes medical intervention is required.”
“Broadly speaking, if you want to avoid spending outrageous sums of money, I suggest to first invest in your overall health and wellbeing. From a physical standpoint, emotional and mental. Eat better, sleep better, remove the causes of stress. It’s also really important to check in on your partner and relationship too.”
“In our experience, it is possible to maximise the chances of natural conception through cost-effective therapies. For patients trying to conceive, we provide Chinese medicine and acupuncture for 3 to 6 cycles. Chinese medicine is a holistic approach. It works the fertility part but also helps improve a patient’s digestive system, hormonal imbalance, reduces stress and increases vitality.”
Question 2: How can clinics find a way to make their patients feel less alone?
“I think the reason why patients feel like just a number is because of the overall system and it how it’s designed, leading to a lack of time and space for empathy. The consultation is more based on clinical and evidence,” Dr Ling shares.
“However, I also think IVF specialists in Australia are well trained and capable to do their jobs as clinicians and make the best decision for their patients towards the best possible outcomes.”
“IVF and fertility patients turn to us for additional support. A lot of my fertility patients find acupuncture very helpful during their IVF processes. It helps them with stress and calms down the mind and body. They feel more in control and feel like they have more support both mentally and physically.”
Question 3: Will unproven and costly ‘add-on’ treatments be more tightly regulated?
“I believe all fertility physicians have good intentions and are sincere in wanting to help patients conceive,” says Dr Scott Ling.
“Every patient is different, so sometimes a clinicians need to think outside the box a bit to help the patients. Regulation has a certain impact on any industry. Yes, it creates a standard but it also limits the outside the box thinking that is required from time to time. We just need to be careful and think about this too.”
“At the end of the day, the question is how can we, as an industry, ensure the safety for the public and deliver consistent quality service”.
Question 4: Will ‘success rates’ published by clinics become more transparent?
“I think the only way to move forward is to be transparent,” says Dr Scott Ling. “In this modern-day where digital media reveals all, transparency is one of the most important factors for any relationship, including doctor-patient relationship.”
“I believe all the IVF clinics will definitely heading to the direction of transparency. Whether a clinic will publish its ‘success rates’ is an individual choice. But if they want to stay in the business, it’s a wise thing to do”
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