Long waiting periods and diagnostic procedures can often discourage those seeking fertility treatments. One study found that 39% of couples who dropped out of treatment did so because of stress and a lack of moral support. But a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine) promises to cut waiting times and increase treatment adherence with a simple remedy: Telemedicine.
The telemedicine-driven Fast Track to Fertility programme launched in August 2019 cuts waiting times by almost 88 per cent, according to a release by Penn Medicine. A study of the programme, which included over 1,000 people seeking fertility treatments, found appointment booking times drop from 36 days to four.
The study, published in NEJM Catalyst, looked at couples who approached Penn Medicine’s Centre for Health Care Innovation. It was conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Telehealth and texts
A digitised enrolment process helped speed up proceedings. The detailed fertility workup process, which helps doctors understand the reasons why a couple may have trouble conceiving, was coordinated via text.
“The fertility workup processes often included blood work, ultrasound, semen analysis and genetic testing,” says study author Dr Anuja Dokras in a press release.
Qualified nurses helped guide participants through the process and answer their queries.
While the platform used human texters at first, an artificial intelligence-augmented approach was later added. Overall, the project saw people start treatments sooner and adhere to their programmes better.
“Most of the people who seek fertility care have been trying to get pregnant for at least a year, so the emotional stakes are high, and they really want to get started as soon as possible,” says Dr Dokras.
This new approach reduced more than half the time for couples to complete fertility workups, cutting the period from 65 to 25 days. This meant that most couples completed their workup within one menstrual cycle.
The study also saw a positive response to the use of educational materials and text-based anticipatory counselling.
“This enables my colleagues and I to do more of what we got into this field for: Helping people get pregnant and bring home their babies,” says Dr Suneeta Senapati, MD, MSCE, assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology and a contributing author of the study.