Clinical standards and your safety are two of the most important factors to consider when comparing clinics that offer fertility treatment abroad. You need to check out standards and safety both in your chosen country and in the individual fertility clinics.
If you are planning fertility treatment abroad and are coming from a region such the USA or Western Europe, with a highly regulated medical sector, then it is easy to take such regulation for granted. However, it is not wise to assume that standards and safety will be the same everywhere and it is vital that you thoroughly research how the fertility clinics are regulated in your chosen country.
Any reputable fertility clinic should, at the very least, be registered with and/or licensed by their country’s department or ministry of health. You can easily find the details of the relevant ministry of health to verify the status of the fertility clinic you are considering.
In many countries private medicine and fertility treatment are licensed by a separate national government body, such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the UK, or the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NAHB) in India. Licensing by such bodies will give you the reassurance that fertility clinics achieve certain standards and safety levels and that they are regularly checked and inspected to make sure those standards are maintained.
Most countries make membership and licensing of their national regulatory body mandatory for fertility clinics, but this may not always be the case. If a national government body for standards and safety does exist, make sure your fertility clinic is registered.
Formal monitoring and licensing also gives you an established route for complaints should anything go wrong during your fertility treatment. The national association will often act as an independent arbiter between you and your fertility clinic in the event of a dispute. Without such support, you may struggle to pursue a complaint without resorting to expensive legal proceedings.
In addition to government-run agencies, many countries also have established national federations that work with their fertility clinics to promote high standards and safety in fertility treatment. These are represented by the International Federation of Fertility Societies (IFFS), who will help you find the national organisation for the country of your choice.
Within Europe, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) works with members to promote higher standards and safety in clinical practice, keeping fertility clinics informed of all the latest research and developments in the field.
Membership of such federations or associations does not, in itself, guarantee high standards and safety, however it does indicate that the fertility clinic considers such issues to be important. It also gives you the reassurance that the fertility clinic benefits from the shared experience and expertise of a national forum, allowing them to incorporate best practice in standards and safety into their own patient care.
The EU Tissues and Cells Directive sets out strict standards and safety guidelines for all fertility clinics within the European Union. In theory, this means that you should be able to trust any clinic within the EU to adhere to the same high standards.
Unfortunately, in practice, not all countries have adopted these standards and safety guidelines, and so fertility clinics within these countries are not obliged to comply with the legislation. There are also substantial differences in the regulations that apply to fertility treatment in different member states.
Despite all the statutory and voluntary bodies on standards and safety, even a wall full of certificates and qualifications is no substitute for first-hand knowledge of a fertility clinic. If possible, try to visit the clinic in advance, to meet the staff and see the standards and safety of the facilities for yourself. This is not always affordable, particularly if you are planning fertility treatment abroad.
If you can’t visit the fertility clinic, try to find people who have, either through online forums or through testimonials held by the clinic. You can also email or telephone the clinic to speak to one of the team who will be treating you. All of this will help you gain an insight into the standards and safety you can expect.
A top class fertility clinic in a large city will provide higher standards than a clinic in a smaller provincial town, and emerging former Eastern Bloc countries or other regions may not have the same standards that you are used to if you live in the West. Depending on your budget, you may be prepared to compromise on some of these standards in order to afford the fertility treatment you want.
Whatever your budget, however, you should never ever compromise on safety to save money or gain access to your treatment. If you are unconvinced about the safety levels on offer, it is vital that you choose another fertility clinic.