Article featured on: forbes.com
Written by: Jake Diner
Infertility, or the inability to conceive within six to 12 months of regular intercourse, is a condition that affects over 10% of the U.S. population. However, the science has advanced dramatically in the last 40 years, and now, thanks to the advanced reproductive technologies (ART), over 8 million babies have been born from in vitro fertilization (IVF) worldwide since 1978.
However, ART is not just very expensive — according to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital (via NCSL), each cycle of IVF, on average, costs $12,000 to $17,000 — but it also can impose a significant logistical challenge that requires extensive travels. According to 2018 data from the CDC, there were only 456 clinics in the U.S. that year that performed ART cycles.
It is not uncommon for couples to run fundraising campaigns and/or take on a significant financial burden just to undergo fertility treatment. But it’s also evident that people are willing to sacrifice a lot for the joy of parenthood.
While the journey for those people who are struggling with fertility may begin with unrecognized health problems, it may continue with difficulties in obtaining services that often are not covered by health insurance. Also, studies have shown that unsuccessful treatment has the potential to lead to possible adverse effects on the mental health and quality of life of the patients.
There are multiple reasons why some couples have problems conceiving or carrying a child. This pathology is best evaluated and diagnosed by reproductive specialists. Unfortunately, access to reproductive endocrinologists (REIs) specifically trained to evaluate and manage reproductive conditions is limited.
Like in most other diseases, early diagnosis and treatment can drastically reduce both financial and emotional burdens while improving positive outcomes. So how can people access high-quality fertility care without imposing financial burdens on themselves?
There are a lot of different ways technology can be used for fertility awareness and provide varying levels of assistance. For instance, while it may seem like a daunting process to chart basal body temperature and cycles and keep a constant eye on the calendar, smartphone apps take guessing out of the equation for the precise window in which to try. Something like Dynadel’s Ovulation Calendar is a perfect example of this.
Wearable devices have evolved far past tracking steps. They now can measure several vitals to produce detailed information about the state of one’s fertility. Something like Mira offers an ovulation kit to track hormone levels at home without the need to visit Quest Diagnostics for blood samples.
While technology can certainly help and improve the odds of conception, only an REI specialist can diagnose and prescribe medical treatment. And only telehealth is uniquely equipped to provide access to specialty doctors for underprivileged societal groups who otherwise lack access to highly specialized care.
Conducting video calls with doctors has become the de facto option for many during the current Covid-19 pandemic that canceled all nonurgent medical procedures as an effort to control the virus spread. Alas, talking to a reproductive endocrinologist regardless of a patient’s location can be a life (literally) saver to some. Moreover, doing it without spending hours traveling and waiting can motivate and encourage many to seek early treatment. Our company is enabling couples to get direct access to fertility treatments without breaking the bank.
However, lack of access due to the sparsity of REI specialists is just half of the problem. The insurmountable cost of treatment is another major factor preventing many from seeking necessary fertility care. While I am not attempting to solve our health care costs issue, a change in the operating business model for infertility treatment can yield surprisingly positive results. For some, IVF is the only option, but for others — if treated early — the IVF procedure can be avoided, thus reducing the overall treatment burden and associated costs.
Technology is helping advance fertility treatment for everyone, and many hospitals are beginning to add telemedicine to their set of tools in the wake of the pandemic, allowing patients to speak with doctors without coming in for check-ups.
Combining REI doctor video consultations with at-home kits that test for underlying reproductive issues can provide much-needed health care for the millions who are priced and placed out of something very essential for our society — reproductive justice and life continuation.