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Fertility clinics' 'success rates' like apples and pears - University of Auckland

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Couples seeking help having a baby cannot meaningfully compare advertised ‘success rates’ between fertility clinics in New Zealand and Australia, a new study shows.

Up to one in five couples experience infertility and some will seek help from fertility doctors. Many fertility clinics publish their in vitro fertilisation (IVF) success rates on their websites, and couples will often shop around for the clinic with the best rate.

But a new study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, reveals that comparisons are meaningless because success rates are calculated in so many different ways, and there is nothing to stop clinics selectively advertising their most favourable (rather than relevant) success rates.

"Unfortunately, couples in New Zealand and Australia can’t rely on advertised ‘success rates’ when choosing clinics," says lead author Dr Lucy Goodman, a researcher in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the University’s School of Medicine.

All 20 websites in the study were broadly compliant with 2017 trans-Tasman guidelines for success rate advertising, introduced following a 2016 review by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that found many Australian clinics reported success rates in a misleading manner.

"The problem is, the guidelines don’t actually define what counts as ‘success’. Some clinics describe pregnancy rates from individual embryos - but not all women who start IVF treatment will reach this stage of treatment," explains Dr Goodman. "Information about factors that can impact on success, such as patient characteristics, treatment methods and whether embryos had been genetically screened, was often missing or not comparable across websites."

Researchers counted 32 ways of defining success across the websites. The most meaningful measure of success, say the researchers, is cumulative live births per IVF cycle started. Not one website reported this figure.

University of Auckland Professor Cindy Farquhar, senior author in the study, says, "The stakes are high for these couples - if 100 women aged less than 35 start an IVF treatment cycle, only 19 will have a live birth following fresh embryo transfer. And these treatments can cost thousands. Fertility patients deserve the best information available, and at the moment they’re comparing apples with pears across clinics."

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