In an effort to attract patients and compete against the more-than 400 fertility centers providing IVF nationwide, fertility clinics today routinely bombard women with statistical data and claims of high success rates. Interpreting what these numbers really mean can be overwhelming to even the most educated couple hoping to get pregnant.
For example, a prospective patient may hear about a particular practice’s pregnancy rate of 71 percent for women under age 38, 59 percent for age 38 through age 39, and 45 percent for women age 40 through 42. On top of those statistics, a fertility specialist may also speak of pregnancy rates for women who use egg donors, as well as for IVF patients who use their own eggs with ICSI (a procedure in which a single sperm is directly injected into an egg). Because these numbers can be confusing, here’s some information and tips to guide you through the daunting maze of data.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mandates that all IVF clinics report their statistics yearly, and over 90 percent of centers do, according to Eric Surrey, M.D., president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) and medical director at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine in Englewood. You can look at an individual clinic’s statistics online at cdc.gov/ART/ART2006.index.htm
Even if the clinic gives you this data itself, it still may be worth checking the CDC’s website. That’s because a fertility clinic may choose to present only the very best parts of its statistics to prospective patients. For instance, a fertility clinic’s own brochures or website may only discuss pregnancy rates, which are usually higher than live birth rates (also called take-home baby rates). But on the CDC’s website, both statistics would be available.
The CDC requires that fertility clinics break down their data by different measures of success (pregnancies, live births [birth of multiples is considered a single live birth], and birth of singletons). Data is further broken down by the woman’s age, and by the type of IVF cycle (fresh versus frozen embryo, donor versus non-donor egg). Couples should try to find the numbers that match the situation most like theirs.
Fertility clinics must also break down and report patient diagnostic data—for instance, whether a couple’s difficulty conceiving is due to a tubal problem, an ovulatory dysfunction, a male factor, etc. This statistic is especially important for couples, who can use the information to determine if a fertility clinic they’re considering treats patients with similar medical problems to their own.