Deciding where to go for IVF treatment is already something hopeful couples undoubtedly agonise over. But a lack of clarity around pricing and success rates can make the decision even harder.
For many people success rates are the key driving factor behind the decision.
They want to know that the clinic they go to will give them the best chances of having a baby.
But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is concerned that there’s not a lot of clarity about what success rates are being used, and how they compare to each other.
They are investigating the claims made by IVF clinics about their successes.
The problem is, clinics don’t have to measure their success rates using the same data.
There are so many variables involved in the IVF process. The age and health of the woman, the number of embryos, the amount of times embryos are implanted before a pregnancy, the number of pregnancies that make it to full term.
Bianca Dye talks bucket lists and her IVF treatment. (Post continues after video.)
Which of these elements IVF clinics decide to focus on can change their success rates. So can what cases they choose to take on.
Official success rates, published anonymously and using a consistent set of data across 35 Australian and New Zealand clinics, range from as low as 4.4 percent, increasing to a high of 31 per cent for live births per fresh egg cycle.
Those rates are not the same ones clinics use.
“When clinics put their information up they are only going to put up what makes them look good,” David Knight, a fertility expert who has himself had a child through IVF, told Mamamia.
Knight is a doctor based at Demeter Fertility in Sydney.
He says around the world, for women under 35, the standard chance of a baby from an egg collection is 30-35 per cent.
But a clinic that advertises a 90 per cent success rate might just be counting the rate of births and not taking into account how many failed attempts before one worked.
You might end up with a baby, but it could be 20 tries and tens of thousands of dollars later.
Comedian Mary Coutsas endured 23 rounds of IVF before she had her baby girl, here she talks to Mamamia about it:
“Really, the background chance here is around one third of women will have a baby per egg collection cycle,” Knight said.
He said the other way IVF clinics can create favourable statistics is through selectively choosing clients.
“Those pregnancy rates might be true, but what they are doing is excluding people. They’ll maybe look at someone older, or with complications and say “sorry we can’t treat you”.
That’s not the right way to go about it, Knight says.
“In the end, we’re either doing medicine or we’re not. Even if it is a business, what we do has to be different because of the nature of what we do.”
But opaque success rates are only half the problem, he says. The other issue is the lack of transparency around pricing.
“I think the industry falls down in that regard,” Knight says.
“The problem we have with fees is that Medicare and the Medicare safety net are quite difficult to work out… I struggle to get my head around it, and I work in the field.”
While clinics might list rates or be able to say “this is how much a cycle will cost” there’s no certainty because of varied success rates.
This is one reason why the ACCC has gotten involved.
“We certainly have found instances of information being put on the websites and being given to consumers that we think is misleading,” ACCC chairman Rod Simms told the ABC.
“When clinics say ‘we have a much higher success rate than other clinics’, and they are just so vague they could mislead consumers,” he said.
In 2015 Medicare paid $242,187,102 in rebates for assisted reproductive technologies. Almost 34,000 women sought fertility treatment.