For those struggling with infertility, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is a widely used treatment option that can help achieve a successful pregnancy. However, choosing the right IVF clinic can be daunting, given the range of options available and the emotional and financial investment required. You notice I said right not best. That’s because another person’s best clinic may not be the right clinic for you.
For example, some might say the best IVF clinic is the one with the highest success rates for a particular age group of women. If you’re not in that particular age group, this clinic may not be right for you.
Patients often assess clinics via information on success rates, costs, and waiting times, but these factors are not always clear indicators of the clinic’s quality or the likelihood of a successful outcome for you. In this article, I will guide you on how to choose the right IVF clinic for your treatment, what factors you should consider, and what questions you should ask to make the best decision for you.
You might be interested in reading: IVF costs abroad – guide
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to choosing an IVF clinic.
The decision-making process can be subjective and depends on a range of individual factors, including your medical history, age, personal preferences and location. However, there are some general factors to keep in mind when selecting an IVF clinic.
IVF is often emotionally, physically and financially draining. Having all the facts and learning how to find the right clinic for you could save you a lot of time, energy and money. It can be a big and expensive mistake to shop without a plan. You may end up with treatments you don’t need and spend more money than you expected or budgeted. It makes sense to try to collect information from multiple sources but be aware that the experience shared by friends, family and those you meet in chat rooms may not reflect your specific situation. Take full advantage of any support offered to you but keep in mind your specific plan. I always tell patients that, unfortunately, they will need to become mini-experts in shopping around for the right clinic. Fortunately, there is a lot of information freely available on the internet (if you know where to look) and using an efficient method to collect, organise and analyse this information will definitely help you to make the right choice for you. One quick word of warning about the internet. The information isn’t all accurate, up to date or even truthful and there’s a lot of it. You could spend weeks just trying to find good information. I know because I have done this.
My scientific training and professional background really help when searching for high-quality information and sifting out the nonsense. For example, a recent top hit on Google using the search terms ‘best IVF clinic in London’ was an acupuncture clinic that doesn’t even provide IVF treatment. I’m not criticising acupuncture and I understand that I might get a different result tomorrow because of how Google search engines work – but I hope you see my point.
Having said all this, I think a good approach is to start by asking yourself what is important to you, what are your red lines, must-haves and nice-to-haves before beginning your search in earnest. I’ve put together a list of some of the most important factors to consider when choosing a clinic for your treatment.
Where is the right IVF clinic for me?
Location, location, location. As with buying a house, a really important factor to consider is the location of the clinic. Depending on where you live, you may have a choice between several clinics in your area or you may need to travel further afield. In some countries, if your treatment is funded by the state, you may have less choice about where your treatment takes place. It’s also possible that you may consider treatment overseas based on costs, availability of specific treatment types and the particular regulatory environment. For example, some people seeking egg donation will only select countries in which the donors are not anonymous. You should consider the convenience of the location, including transportation options and accessibility, as well as the potential cost of travel and accommodation if you need to stay in the area for an extended period. Remember that you may need to make multiple trips to a particular clinic, possibly over months or years, and a more conveniently located clinic could reduce the stress associated with travel and make the process more manageable.
What are the IVF clinic’s success rates?
Probably the most considered factor when choosing an IVF clinic is the success rate. Success rates are typically measured in terms of the percentage of cycles that result in a live birth, but there are many other ways to express success rates and this can be confusing or misleading when trying to compare clinics. One golden rule is to ensure that you are comparing ‘apples with apples’. If clinic A has a ‘pregnancy’ rate of 65% but they are using positive pregnancy test per embryo transfer as the measure this cannot be easily compared with clinic B which has a ‘pregnancy’ rate of 50% and uses clinical pregnancy rate per egg collection. Understanding success rates is so important I’d recommend reading further on this: IVF success rates explained. Another crucial point is that success rates can be influenced by a wide range of factors, including your age, the cause of infertility and the number of embryos transferred.
While high success rates may be an important consideration, it’s important to keep in mind that success rates alone may not be a reliable indicator of the quality of care provided by the clinic. A clinic with a high success rate may have a very large number of patients or may be more selective in the patients they treat, which could skew the statistics. The published success rates alone do not guarantee a successful outcome for you. You should consider the success rates in the context of your specific case and medical history. Look for a clinic that has a good track record of success with patients who have similar fertility issues to yours and if it isn’t clear on the website – just ask.
How much will IVF treatment cost me?
The cost of IVF treatment can vary significantly between clinics, depending on factors such as the location, the type of treatment and any additional services provided. One of the most common complaints among patients is that their treatment ended up costing significantly more than they had initially been told and had budgeted for. Ideally, you should try to get the clinic to provide a detailed breakdown of the costs involved for your treatment and to understand what is included. The real value of this exercise is to fully appreciate that the total cost of a treatment cycle at some clinics will be dramatically different from the ‘headline’ basic IVF price listed on the website.
You may be interested in reading: IVF Cost – UK Guide
While cost may be an important consideration, it is important not to make it the only factor when choosing an IVF clinic. Cheaper clinics may offer lower-quality care, a basic ‘no-frills’ package or may even cut corners in order to keep costs down. In contrast, more expensive clinics may offer a higher level of personalized care or additional services – some of which may not be essential for your success. Spending more doesn’t automatically equal success and spending less doesn’t automatically mean worse care. It’s really important to carefully plan and budget before beginning any treatment if you are paying out of pocket. Many clinics now offer financing options or payment plans to help ease the financial burden and some even offer a money-back guarantee for successful outcomes.
Timing: when can I start IVF treatment, how long will it last and should I start now?
You may also be concerned about the length of time required for IVF treatment. Some clinics may advertise shorter treatment times as a selling point, but it is important to keep in mind that the duration of treatment can vary depending on the individual case. Some patients may require additional testing or treatments before they are ready for IVF, while others may experience complications during treatment that require additional time. Obviously, a successful, busy clinic may be in demand and have a waiting list. However, you must consider yourself as a priority, so a long waiting time isn’t good for you. If you are waiting for a long period of time for state-funded treatment, you may wish to consider paying privately to access treatment at your convenience. Finally, despite the need to not delay your treatment unnecessarily, try not to rush into signing on the dotted line with a clinic until all your questions have been answered. You may find it difficult to back out once you have spent some money with a particular clinic.
What range of services does the clinic offer?
Another factor to consider when choosing an IVF clinic is the range of services they offer. Some clinics may specialize in a particular type of treatment, such as donor egg IVF, while others may offer a wider range of services, including surrogacy or fertility preservation. We might consider this type of service as a ‘core’ service. If you need egg donation and a clinic cannot, does not or is unable to offer it, you will need to seek treatment elsewhere. If you’d prefer to have acupuncture as part of your treatment but it’s not available at your preferred clinic, perhaps you can compromise on this. However, this is a very personal decision and not necessarily linked to success rates. If a clinic is currently not offering a service you would like, you can always ask them. While not every patient will need a specific technology or technique, it is always worth asking the question if a clinic is not offering, for example, blastocyst culture. Is it based on their own evidence or a failure to invest in new equipment?
Experience, expertise and accreditation
When selecting an IVF clinic, it is essential to look for a clinic that has the right expertise and credentials. The clinic should have a team of experienced and qualified reproductive endocrinologists, embryologists, and nurses who specialize in IVF treatments and who should be able to provide personalized care based on your individual needs. New clinics may be excellent, but you should be aware that it will be difficult to find accurate statistics, customer reviews or assess their reputation. In any case, look for clinics that have the proper accreditation from regulatory bodies in your region or country. There is legislation within the EU that sets standards for quality and safety. However, not all EU countries have implemented this legislation, and clinics in these countries are not necessarily accredited by a national body. Once you have a clinic in mind for treatment, you can research that clinic online, including reading reviews from other patients or checking inspection reports (if available) and ensuring the accreditation status is up to date.
IVF clinic culture and patient support?
IVF treatments can be emotionally and physically draining, and it is essential to choose a clinic that provides a supportive and caring environment. The clinic should have a culture that is patient-centred and values your individual needs and preferences. The staff should be friendly, empathetic, and supportive, and the clinic should offer counselling and support services to help you cope with the emotional aspects of the treatment. In many cases, such support services are free and, if not, the clinic may direct you towards independent patient or professional-led support groups.
Can I compare customer satisfaction and experience between IVF clinics?
Reading reviews from other patients who have undergone IVF treatments at a particular clinic can be helpful. You can find reviews on the clinic’s website or other independent review sites. However, keep in mind that reviews can be biased, and you should read them in conjunction with other factors such as success rates, inspection reports and accreditation. The UK’s fertility regulator the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) provides a great deal of information aimed at helping people to select the right clinic for them (including a full list of all UK licensed clinics, success rates, inspection reports and patient ratings).
Reviews can be extremely useful when making a purchase. As you will know from Amazon shopping or reading restaurant reviews online, you need to consider the number of reviews posted, the skew of results (are they all 100% positive?), are they validated, fake, independent, recent? Today, the problem seems to be that there are not enough independent, validated, trustworthy reviews available to allow you to make a judgment based on reviews alone. I recently interviewed Kayleigh Hartigan, CEO of Fertility Mapper, an organisation that aims to transform this by getting reviews directly from patients to put control in the hands of the consumer – the patient. I was sceptical and asked what was different from the reviews collected by clinics, HFEA and Trustpilot. “Fertility Mapper is an independent, industry-specific, UK based, community-based site which contains only verified reviews from patients” she explained. In my experience, reviews in general tend to only be contributed by people receiving experiences at the extreme ends of the spectrum, which limits their value. Why would this site attract a wider range of experiences and patients? Kayleigh confidently countered this with an eloquent charge to patients which sums up the ethos of the organisation: “Be the help you needed”.
We’ve covered quite a few elements and the list could go on, but I’d like to leave you with a few frequently asked questions when choosing an IVF clinic.
How to make sure that the IVF laboratory is a quality one?
The laboratory is the engine room of the IVF clinic. As a patient, you will spend plenty of time with the nursing team, but you may not get to see inside the engine room. However, there are some metrics that can help to measure the quality of the lab. Two key metrics in the laboratory that can identify quality specifically in terms of embryology are the utilization rate (the percentage of embryos either transferred or stored for later use of the total produced) and implantation rate (the number of embryos implanting as a percentage of those transferred). Furthermore, many countries now require clinics (and especially their laboratories) to have a quality management system (ISO for example). In some countries (UK for example) it is possible to read inspection reports and compare validated, verified success rates for individual clinics on the regulatory body (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) website. It may be possible to find a similar level of transparency and detail for clinics in other countries.
Finally, when working with my coaching clients, I always recommend that they write their own list of questions once they have shortlisted a few clinics. Clinics deal with such questions every day, but this could well be your first time and you deserve clear and comprehensive answers. You can already assess how good a fit a particular clinic might be for you based on the speed, quality and tone of their responses. Here’s a brief list of questions to get you started.
- What is the clinic’s success rate for patients with a similar medical history to mine and how does it compare to other clinics in the area?
- What counselling and support services does the clinic offer to help me cope with the emotional aspects of the treatment?
- What is the clinic’s policy on communicating treatment progress and results, and how often will I receive updates?
- How much will the IVF treatment cost, and what is included in the price? Will you provide a detailed outline of the treatment I am likely to receive – what is optional and what is not?
- How long does the IVF treatment process typically take, and what are the steps involved? When can I begin?
- What type of testing and evaluation will be done before starting IVF treatment?
- Are there any specific legal or regulatory issues I need to be aware of?
For example: What is the clinic’s policy on freezing embryos, and how long can they be stored?
What are the top three factors in choosing the right IVF clinic?
Different people will consider certain factors more important than others but usually success rates, cost and location are the most important factors. However, one factor that should never be overlooked is the patient experience.
Why are some IVF clinics better than others?
IVF is still a relatively young branch of medicine and there is room for improvement. This means that the IVF process is not fully standardised, which leads to variability between clinics. It’s also possible that some clinics treat patients with a different profile who have a higher chance of success.
What quality standards of the IVF clinics can be checked?
If the clinic adheres to an international quality standard, for example ISO, they will have a robust quality management system in place. They will also be subject to periodic inspections, which should ensure high standards are in place. Such quality standards do not automatically translate into higher success rates, but it does mean that systems are in place to troubleshoot problems, effectively deal with complaints and ensure that appropriate facilities, staffing and training are in place.
By selecting the right clinic for your treatment, you will be more invested, engaged and committed to the treatment journey and will most likely save time, money and energy by achieving your goals faster. I recognise clinic choice as one of the most challenging aspects of the fertility treatment journey and I hope that this article has been of some use. If you’d like to discuss this or any or my other articles in more details, please reach out directly ([email protected]).