Comparing success rates is one of the most important things to do when choosing an infertility clinic abroad or at home. By comparing success rates, you are comparing the number of live births, or pregnancies, as a percentage of the total number of cycles of infertility treatment performed.
Wherever possible when comparing success rates, you should ensure that the data have been independently verified by a national body or association. Without independent verification, infertility clinics can claim anything they like and you will have no choice but to take the data at face value.
Comparing success rates is not always as simple as comparing the headline rates, as there are many different factors that will influence the success rates of a given infertility clinic. You need to make sure that you understand the context of the data before you make any direct comparisons.
Clinics may provide data for comparing success rates overall, or break down data for comparing success rates by infertility treatment, age range or fertility problem. They may also provide data for comparing success rates for the different doctors within the infertility clinic, although this is rare.
Some infertility treatments are simpler and more straightforward than others, and will consequently have a higher success rate. For example, women who are otherwise fertile, but who lack a suitable sperm source because their partner has problems, or they have no male partner, have around the same chance of conceiving after intrauterine insemination as they would in a normal sexual relationship. Infertility clinics that handle a large number of such cases will clearly appear better than those that specialise in in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in older women when comparing success rates.
It is much more useful to ask for data on your own specific condition or choice of infertility treatment when comparing success rates. That way you will get an idea of how good the clinic will be for you personally, rather than comparing success rates overall.
In most cases, your age will have a significant effect on your chances of becoming pregnant. In a relationship where both partners are fertile, and have regular, unprotected sex, there is a 20–25 % chance of falling pregnant on any given month up to your mid thirties, however this drops away rapidly as you get older.
Infertility clinics that mainly treat younger women will naturally seem better when comparing success rates. If you are an older client, you should ask for more details of their success rate within your age group specifically and, if possible, for the infertility treatment that you need.
In the same way that an infertility clinic can increase their success rates by being highly selective in the women they treat, they can also improve their figures by the number of viable embryos that are transferred during in vitro fertilisation (IVF), for example. In some countries, as many as four embryos may be transferred at one time. This will increase the success rate for conception, but will also significantly increase the risk of multiple births. This not only puts the mother and babies at risk, but could also leave you suddenly dealing with twins, triplets or more, when you were only planning for one child.
Make sure you check the infertility clinic’s policy on multiple embryo transfers when comparing success rates, to get a realistic comparison and avoid putting yourself at risk.
You should bear in mind that comparing success rates is simply comparing the outcome of past procedures for other people; there are no guarantees when it comes to infertility treatment.
For live birth success rates, the figures will be at least 18 months out of date and even for confirmed pregnancies, they will be at least a few months behind. There may have been changes at the infertility clinic you are researching since those days that may affect the success rate of current treatments.
Every couple has their own unique problems, medical history and family history, and so although comparing success rates for other clients will give you some indication of the competence of the infertility clinic, those success rates will not necessarily be reflected in your own treatment.
Furthermore, success rates are just statistics, and need to be taken as such. Very few clinics around the world carry out enough cycles of treatment to produce statistically significant or reliably predictive figures. That means that at best you will be comparing success rates based on a fairly wide range of probabilities, with a margin of error of several per cent either way. With differences between clinics only ever a few percentage points either side of the average for the treatment, these margins show the problems involved in comparing success rates.
At the end of the day, even at the best clinic in the world, with the most highly trained and gifted staff, science can only take assisted conception so far. There is inevitably a certain element of luck involved in whether an embryo attaches or not, and you simply cannot legislate for this when comparing success rates.
Comparing success rates should therefore be just one part of your decision making process, and other factors such as comfort, confidence, convenience and cost may ultimately be more important in choosing a clinic.