One of the difficulties when comparing clinics for fertility treatment abroad is making sure that you get the right level of expertise from appropriately qualified doctors and technicians.
All fertility clinics may claim on their websites and in their brochures to have a highly qualified team of experts, but how can you tell if this expertise means anything and how can you compare the service they offer to that available in clinics that offer fertility treatment in your own country?
Before you start comparing expertise, it is worth considering exactly what level of expertise is required for the fertility treatment you wish to have. Simple techniques, such as intra-uterine insemination (IUI), for example, require less skill and expertise than more complex and advanced procedures such as intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
Although you will want to choose the most qualified and experienced gynaecologists you can afford, there is no point in paying over the odds for a level of skill and specialism that your fertility treatment does not require.
One way to be sure about the standard of care you will receive is to select fertility clinics whose doctors have studied in a country with a reputable training system. For example, doctors in many countries all over the world complete either their basic medical training, or their gynaecology specialism, in the USA or at a major medical centre in Europe.
Qualifications from less medically-advanced countries are not necessarily of a lower standard, but weighing up expertise and qualifications gained under the same system makes it easier to make direct comparisons.
Another important factor when comparing expertise is to look at the level of specialist training your doctor has undergone. Fertility treatment and reproductive medicine is a specific branch of gynaecology, and additional training is needed. In the USA, for example, a specialist qualification in reproductive endocrinology takes a further three years of training over and above basic gynaecology.
When comparing expertise, it is important to verify your doctor’s qualifications whenever possible. This can be done by asking to see certificates and checking with the appropriate awarding body, or by contacting the ministry of health in their home country.
Many leading societies relevant to fertility treatment insist on a certain level of qualification before individuals are allowed to join, so membership of a reputable society can be taken as a confirmation of expertise. These societies often have a searchable database on their website, which allows you to find all suitably qualified members for a given country when comparing expertise.
Leading societies include:
Another benefit of society membership is the sharing of new techniques and technology, along with best practice for existing procedures. When comparing expertise, look for fertility clinics that actively encourage the continued professional development of their team through attendance at national and international seminars and conferences.
Naturally, there is more to comparing expertise than simply comparing formal qualifications. The talent and skill of the individual, and their years of hands-on experience in treating infertility, will also play a role in their overall expertise. You should ask your chosen clinics how many procedures specific doctors have carried out, and what their individual success rates are.
You should combine this with their published success rates for the procedure, to give you an idea of how much experience they have, and what this experience has taught them in terms of improving their performance.
Some fertility treatments, such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), require state-of-the-art equipment and use the latest technology. The expertise of the fertility clinic will depend, in part, on their levels of investment in such technology.
If you have an advanced or highly specialised fertility treatment in mind, it is well worth researching the best equipment for the job so that you know what to look for when comparing expertise on this basis.
Of course, expertise is not all about the clinical aspects of your fertility treatment. A doctor’s expertise includes his or her skills in dealing with patients as people rather than just medical problems. In fact, the whole of the staff at the fertility clinic needs to share this expertise if they are to make you feel welcome, comfortable and confident.
The best way of comparing expertise in this ‘bedside manner’ is to either meet the team at a particular fertility clinic on an exploratory visit, or talk to them by telephone or on Skype. Alternatively, you can look at the testimonials of previous patients. These will help you in comparing expertise at all levels, from technical competence to emotional support.