Lessons learned about making fertility treatment virtual during the pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has upended most of our lives in some way, and IVF couples planning to start a family have been hit particularly hard. Around the world, fertility clinics were forced to temporarily suspend operations. For patients who had spent months on waiting lists only to have their treatment postponed, the news was disheartening, and the lack of certainty around when treatments might restart triggered feelings of anxiety and distress. In fact, calls to the charity’s counselling helpline Fertility Network UK increased by 50% between late March and mid-April.
While some aspects of our lives seamlessly shifted online overnight, fertility clinics grappled with the urgency to adapt and many started to move some of their services online to cater to their patients during lockdown. Digital-first fertility startups experienced a rise in demand globally, as they were able to offer patients virtual consultations and at-home testing while the clinics remained closed. The crisis has proven that in today’s climate, to be truly patient-centric, fertility clinics should be using a virtual model of care.
One key advantage of a virtual clinic is the flexibility and freedom they offer to IVF patients. While patients traditionally visit the clinic in person 9 times per cycle, a virtual clinic can reduce this to just three visits, for the initial diagnosis, egg retrieval and the embryo transfer. Everything else – including pre-treatment diagnostics and fertility assessments – can be handled virtually, causing minimal disruption to the patient’s day-to-day life.
Secondly, while appointments are traditionally scheduled around the constraints of the clinic’s opening hours, virtual consultations offer much greater flexibility.
Appointments can take place from the comfort of a patient’s own home at a time that suits them, with support and guidance available seven days a week. Some clinics also offer mobile apps to help patients easily schedule and manage appointments, keep track of their journey, while reducing the risk of errors and stress by sending push-notifications and reminders.
Further, a patient’s care team shouldn’t stop at doctors and nurses, but should also encompass experts in fertility counselling, coaching, reflexology and nutrition. Emotional support needs to be an essential part of, what is for many, an exhausting and emotionally-draining process.
IVF has traditionally been viewed as distinct from and separate to mental health, but many virtual clinics now include online counselling support as an integrated part of the treatment journey. IVF affects people in different ways, and each patient should be able to receive a holistic service that’s tailored to their needs.
And the technology doesn’t stop there. Some clinics are leveraging the latest technologies to develop new tools that can have a transformative impact on the fertility industry, whether it’s predicting fertility success rates or better matching patients to treatment plans.
For example, AI-driven tools have recently been developed to better evaluate the chances of conception based on machine learning algorithms that analyse the data of thousands of patients.
One thing the pandemic has shown us is that virtual services are here to stay. The way we live and work has shifted dramatically over the past few months, and it’s proven the need for online solutions in a much more pronounced way.
Virtual fertility solutions shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘quick fix’ measure during lockdown, but should be seen as the future of fertility treatment – one that allows the patient to maintain control and feel empowered throughout their IVF journey.
Founder & CEO, Apricity
Caroline Noublanche is an experienced entrepreneur and founder of UK virtual fertility clinic, Apricity. Apricity’s digital solution provides access to world-class fertility advisors and assists patients with a fully customised journey, all easily navigated through a mobile app. Previously, Caroline co-founded mobile app Prylos, which she sold to Swedish electronics giant Doro AB in 2011.