With thousands of infertility clinics available across the world, couples who need infertility treatment face a baffling choice. Where do you start to look for information to help you make the right choice? How do you find out the credentials of an infertility clinic in Croatia or check the qualifications of a gynaecologist in Turkey? And are there any international standards that will help you compare infertility clinics in different countries?
There are many resources, both on- and off-line that you can call on to help you make your decision when choosing infertility treatment abroad. These include everything from government ministries to independent organisations and international bodies that regulate standards in infertility clinics. Some of these are recognised worldwide, whereas some only offer information that is specific to their home country.
Perhaps the most widely accepted international quality standard is ISO9001. This is issued by the International Organisation for Standardisation, or ISO, which coordinates the work of national standards institutes in almost every country in the world. The ISO is the largest and most prestigious developer of international standards and an infertility clinic that achieves their accreditation is worthy of further investigation.
The American-based Joint Commission International provides similar quality accreditation, with a focus on patient safety and quality of care. You can find out which infertility clinics in your chosen country are accredited, or verify a clinic’s claim to JCI accreditation, by checking the list on their website.
A number of independent international organisations for infertility treatment and medical tourism in general work with voluntary members to improve standards in infertility clinics and share best practice. For example, the Medical Tourism Association works with hospitals and healthcare providers, including infertility clinics, across the world to create ‘transparency in quality and pricing, communication and education’.
Many European infertility clinics are also affiliated with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which has a good reputation worldwide as well as in the USA.
It should be noted, however, that while these organisations often do good work and provide excellent information, membership is voluntary, and usually paid for. Membership of such an organisation does not necessarily mean that an infertility clinic has definitely achieved a certain standard, or that any inspections or tests have been done, and therefore has no legal status or guarantees.
Infertility treatment in Europe is governed by the standards set out in the EU Tissues and Cells Directive. This establishes set standards for quality and safety that should be met in all EU infertility clinics. However not all countries within the EU have accepted or implemented these standards, so do not assume your chosen clinic will follow these rules without making further checks.
The primary European body for infertility clinics is the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology or ESHRE.
The European Foundation for Quality Management plays a similar role to the ISO in helping organisations to share best practice to improve performance and promote high standards of business practice.
Most countries have either statutory national bodies, such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association in the UK, or national federations, such as the Spanish Fertility Society, the American Fertility Association, the South African Society of Reproductive Medicine or the Quality Council of India. These are too numerous to list here, but a simple web search will point you in the right direction.
National health ministries and infertility clinic standards
Another route to finding infertility clinics, checking their credentials and assessing their staff, is to contact the department or ministry of health in their home country. Most nations have some form of government registration and regulation of private infertility clinics, although this may only give you the basic details. If a clinic is unknown to their government health body, then they are probably best avoided.
The World Health Authority provides a comprehensive list of European health ministries. You can also visit the health ministry websites for other major destinations, such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Mauritius and South Africa.