I’ve had the opportunity over the years to work in a few different fertility clinics, all sizes and in many regions. I’ve also, as a consultant, have been privy the inner-workings of many others and have come to the conclusion that the following factors are important for staff and patient satisfaction at a Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI) center.
Of course, pregnancy rates are important (and can be researched on the CDC SART website) but that only reflects the outcome of your cycle. Since you will most likely have multiple visits to an infertility center, spread out over weeks or months, and have many points of contact with all of the staff, the quality of your experience while there is also pivotal.
Look out for these five elements when looking for a quality fertility clinic:
- 1) The staff genuinely seems like they like each other.
The importance of staff cohesiveness can’t be emphasized enough, in my opinion. We have all had bad days at work (or a bad day in life and had to go to work) and the camaraderie of your colleagues can go a long way in helping to elevate a bad mood.
How this translates in a fertility center is that a staff that works together at all levels can enhance the patient’s cycle, from start to finish. A fertility cycle requires input from multiple departments (finance, nursing, embryology) at many different points in the cycle(s).
For example, insurance verification is a time-consuming, necessary evil and having a nursing department that is in close contact with a finance department can help facilitate the process of cycle authorization and assure that the patient is capitalizing on what their insurance offers.
Medical assistants who talk to nursing to see if a blood test is necessary in someone who is self-pay or who has a particularly bad needle-phobia are the best kind of patient advocates. Also, staff that are happy to be there are also happy to help and will often go above and beyond their job to optimize their patient’s experience.
- 2) You get a good feeling when you walk into the office.
This is hard to describe, but you know when you feel it (and particularly when you don’t).
Just like your introductory meeting with a person, the first impression that you have in an office is important and often sets the tone for the rest of your visits.
When you walk in, does the front desk address you in a timely, pleasant way? Or are they looking anywhere but at you? Does the medical assistant or nurse who takes your vital signs introduce herself? Do you see lots of smiles and eye contact? Or does it feel like you walked into a rival sorority house when you walk in, i.e. an undercurrent of hostility, unpleasantness, frenetic busyness. Do you feel like you are bothering or interrupting the staff every time you ask a question?
You want to be in a place that exudes positive energy, whenever possible, particularly when you will be undergoing a process that can generate varying levels of stress.
- 3) The office emphasizes general health and wellness.
You are not just a walking uterus and ovaries (let’s not even mention how one could envision the men). You are a whole person. As a whole person, what you eat, do and think can, arguably, affect your fertility.
It would be remiss of any physician’s office not to ask you about your nutrition and lifestyle, and then emphasize non-pharmacological ways to assist you in your attempt to conceive. Kudos to an office that emphasizes the importance of nutrition and extra fist bump for those who have close contact with a nutritionist or, the holy grail, one that employs a nutritionist in the office.
Ask yourself: what do you see first when you walk into the office? Are there seminars and opportunities for small group meetings? What magazines are in the waiting room? Old issues that the staff wasn’t interested in taking home, or magazines that emphasize health and wellness? The waiting room can be a microcosm of the components of care that the REI center finds important, so what you find there is often reflective of what you will experience during your visits.
- 4) The website is robust and has patient education opportunities.
A fertility center’s website is another way to make a first impression, and it can help you decide what the staff thinks is important for you to know.
I have seen websites for big centers that are just a few pages and emphasize only the surgeries the doctors do. They have no real introduction to the rest of the staff or services offered.
In contrast, I’ve seen websites that offer educational articles and videos, links to helpful patient advocacy groups, and offer live-feed Q and A’s with clinicians. Think about the website in the same way you would look for a mate. Don’t make a youthful dating mistake and go for style over substance.
- 5) The physicians rely on current, relevant scientific research in their everyday practice.
The good news about working in the infertility field is that there are so many advances and new techniques. The bad news is that there are consistent advances, and it’s vital to keep abreast of them, researching which ones will have longevity and which ones start as good ideas but don’t work once put into practice.
For example, we weren’t sure that ICSI would be safe for oocytes when it was first utilized, but now we can’t imagine IVF treatments without it. One of the hardest diagnoses to manage and overcome in infertility is that of a diminished ovarian reserve, when the quality (and quantity) of the women’s eggs is low or lessened. Since many of our patients face this diagnosis, much REI research is done to find ways to combat it, since it can’t be “cured” at this point.
Whenever I go into another center, I ask the physicians what they do differently for this subset of patients, and I often am told a variety of methods. Not all may work, but hopefully the physician has researched them, asked colleagues about them, and has gone to an academic conference where it was discussed.
This generates another important point. Good fertility centers promote professional development opportunities for their staff. They are willing to have either an in-house nurse educator or employ an outside consultant to educate and enrich their nursing staff. They are always striving to refine current protocols and standing orders. They send their staff to conferences, both local and national. They support the staff’s efforts at obtaining continuing education units or advancing their degrees. In return, the staff feels valued, which leads to higher morale and better patient care.
Currently the CDC database lists 450+ REI centers in the US that report to SART and offer infertility treatments. The choice of which fertility clinic to use (or in which to work) is a big one and ultimately, like any big decision, one that you will probably make with a combination of information gathering, logic and your gut instinct.
Hopefully, these tips will help you refine your search for the REI center that meets your needs.