With an estimated 15 percent of Australian couples experiencing a fertility problem, and huge advances in our understanding and treatment of fertility issues, fertility clinics have been a medical growth industry for some years.
Australia’s first assisted reproductive technology (ART) baby was born in 1980 and since then, the number of babies born through ART has skyrocketed. In 2008, an estimated 3.1 percent of babies born in Australia were conceived as a result of ART.
In Australia, The Perinatal and Reproductive Epidemiology Research Unit (PRERU) collects information about fertility clinic treatment in Australia and in New Zealand, and their annual Assisted Reproduction Technology Reports are publicly available on the PRERU website.
Reports are generally published two to three years after the data collection year and compile information from over sixty fertility clinics in Australia and New Zealand.
In 2007, the Unit found that there were almost 57,000 assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment cycles undertaken in fertility clinics across Australian and New Zealand.
Of these treatment cycles, 17.4 percent resulted in the birth of at least one live-born baby. In total, over 10,000 live-born babies were born following ART treatment undertaken in fertility clinics in 2007.
Around 10 percent of these births are twins or triplets. The rate of multiple births has almost halved in the last decade because better success rates has meant that the majority of ART treatment cycles in fertility clinics now use a single embryo transfer.
There are over seventy fertility clinics in Australia. The majority are private fertility clinics, and although there are some public hospitals which have a fertility clinic, there are still costs involved.
Every couple will have different criteria they will apply to their choice of fertility clinic. It’s worth doing some research beforehand.
Many members of online parenting forums will discuss their experiences with particular fertility clinics. Your own doctor will also be a good resource and may recommend a local fertility clinic based on other patients’ experiences.
When looking for a fertility clinic, it’s a good idea to read widely and come up with a list of the things that are important to you, and perhaps phone or visit several fertility clinics before deciding on the fertility clinic that suits you best.
You need to feel comfortable with the way the fertility clinic communicates with you, with the doctor and staff and the services provided. Most fertility clinics are quite upfront about their schedule of fees, and these can vary between fertility clinics.
It is also important to check what private health coverage you have, and how this will apply to any fertility treatment you have.
Many people are surprised at the high level of out-of-pocket expenses after Medicare and Health Fund rebates. Most health funds also limit the number of treatment cycles you are able to have rebated.
Staff at a fertility clinic will include nurses and doctors with specialist fertility qualifications including surgeons, anaesthetists, reproductive endocrinologists, embryologists and radiographers.
Most fertility clinics also include specialist fertility counsellors and may also have nutritionists and alternative therapy practitioners such as acupuncturists and hypnotherapists.
The WA Reproductive Technology Council has outlined a set of guidelines for consumers who use a fertility clinic.
The Council recommends that you make sure that you have access to clear information about the procedures that are available at the fertility clinic, and the likely safety and success of these procedures;
You should also have the right to give consent to all aspects of the treatment at the fertility clinic and also have the right to determine what may be done with your eggs, sperm or embryos.
The responsibility is on the fertility clinic to gain your informed consent and so they should provide consumers with access to assistance in decision making about treatments, options and implications.
You should be given some written information that you can take away and read, which gives side-effects, risks and multiple birth rates of any fertility treatments.
Most fertility clinics will also include fertility counselling, some of which may be included in the cost of the fertility treatment.
It can be very difficult to assess the success rates of a fertility clinic, but it is reasonable to expect that a fertility clinic provide information of their success rate broken down into treatment regimes and age groups.
Success rates generally refer to the number of live births, rather than positive pregnancy tests or foetal heart beats present.
Success rates are generally expressed as percentage of live births per treatment cycle – so if you are told that there is a 25 percent success rate per embryo transfer in an IVF treatment cycle, this means that 25 percent of couples could expect a live baby from an embryo transfer resulting from a cycle of IVF.
In each state, the monitoring of a fertility clinic will fall under the relevant state health authorities.
In general, if you are unable to find the correct authority in your state which is involved in the administration of fertility clinics, you can check with the Department of Health in your state.
Here are some of the major authorities:
Other fertility clinic links:
By Fran Molloy, journalist and mum of four