One of the biggest complications when seeking fertility treatment abroad is the different rules for storing patient information. Inevitably, this varies significantly from country to country, with some countries offering highly sophisticated systems, while others struggle on with more rudimentary methods for both storing patient information and retrieving it.
The way your patient information is kept can be fundamental to the success of your fertility treatment, and can even affect the overall cost of IVF treatment. The more patient information your chosen clinic has about you, the better they will be able to advise and treat you, selecting the most appropriate fertility treatment for your condition.
Furthermore, with many countries offering a basic assessment of infertility problems as part of their national health scheme, you can save time and money by having these tests done at home, and taking your medical records and results along with you to your chosen fertility clinic abroad.
Your GP, fertility specialist or obstetrician / gynaecologist should be happy to provide you with the results of any tests or assessments, to help you access fertility treatment abroad. Even if they disapprove of your decision, they should still let you have the relevant patient information, and usually you will have a legal right to this.
In many countries, the laws that regulate how patient information is stored will give you a defined right to access those records. In the UK, for example, this right is enshrined in the Data Protection Act 1998; in the USA it is covered by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act; while in Australia the National Privacy Principles protect your rights.
There are plans to make the storing of patient information standard and equally accessible across Europe. However, as with many EU proposals, this is currently mired in debate and cost problems. If this universal system for the storing of patient information is ever completed, it will make medical tourism within the EU so much simpler.
Taking a copy of your medical records with you to your chosen fertility clinic is the best way to ensure you get treatment that is both appropriate and safe. But it is important that you share your patient information in full. Holding back aspects of your medical history, out of fear that you may not be able to have fertility treatment, is foolish and dangerous. If there is a risk with your treatment, due to your medical history, genetic issues or your HIV status, it is better to be honest and upfront about it so that your fertility clinic can take appropriate precautions.
Given the very private and personal nature of fertility treatment, it is important to ask your chosen fertility clinic how your records will be stored, who will have access to them and how long they will be kept for. You should not assume that the same doctor–patient privilege rules and privacy laws that apply in your home country will automatically apply abroad. Always ask what the policy and local legislation is, to ensure that your privacy is protected.
Naturally, if you are using donor sperm or eggs or planning to work with a surrogate mother you will want to be sure that your fertility clinic will have access to their medical records too. This will allow them to screen donors for genetic issues, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and other potential problems that they may pass on to your baby.
Patient information storage systems in their country should allow them access to such information, or at least allow the donor to access their records and bring them along to support their health status. If donor records cannot be checked at your chosen fertility clinic, then look elsewhere.
You should also check for the rules on storing patient information for donors, and whether your offspring will have access to this information in the future, should they choose to seek out their biological parents. In many countries, donor anonymity is preserved in law and the information held on donors is strictly regulated.
Even if your doctor or fertility specialist at home has not supported you in travelling overseas for fertility treatment, it is still important to bring a copy of your treatment records home, so that your main medical records can be updated. Without this, there will be no record of the treatment you have received, and local medical staff will not be able to help you as effectively in an emergency situation.
Once again, it is always worth asking in advance to ensure that you will be provided with comprehensive medical records to bring home at the end of your treatment. In many cases, your chosen fertility clinic will communicate directly with your family doctor to make sure that your records are updated.