Fertility issues are deeply frustrating, imbued with intense emotional baggage and plenty of cultural meaning. So when you finally decide to seek help, you might be tempted to throw up your hands and pick the first doctor you find. Maybe you even intend to seek help only from a family physician or OB/GYN. This is an unwise strategy. Doctors vary greatly in their training and expertise. Generalist practitioners rarely have the experience and skill necessary to treat complex fertility issues. They also may not be up to date on the latest research; in a field where new advances are occurring every year, this puts you at a significant disadvantage if you don't use a specialist.
Even if you do choose a fertility expert, not all fertility experts are the same. Some boast years of experience and a strong track record. Others are new to the field, or have had poor success helping patients establish pregnancies.
If you're ready to begin the journey to parenthood, it's time to think carefully about whom you will choose as your doctor. That choice may be the one that determines the length of time it takes to become a parent, the cost of doing so, and perhaps even whether you become a parent at all.
The Importance of Expertise
Doctors are, first and foremost, scientists. Any doctor can cobble together an attractive website or purchase a billboard or television advertising. Any practice can set up a beautiful waiting room with comfortable chairs and glass doors. Don't allow yourself to be taken in by these slick marketing tactics. Appearances do not matter. Results do. Ask your provider about their experience dealing with fertility issues, especially those most similar to yours. You should also ask if your provider maintains statistics on success rates, since this data may be your most helpful source of information.
What about getting help from your family physician or OB/GYN? These providers can provide you with a preliminary consultation, but the field of fertility medicine is a complex one. You wouldn't seek cancer treatment from a pediatrician, so there's no good reason to pursue fertility treatments with a doctor who does not specialize in fertility medicine.
The Role of Quality Support Staff
When you call your doctor's office, the person who answers the phone is your first point of contact. You don't deserve to be abused or given incorrect information, so carefully consider whether the support person is someone with whom you feel comfortable working. Fertility issues are stressful enough on their own. You deserve the compassionate assistance of a support team that understands the unique challenges you find yourself facing.
The Need for Expert Financial Counseling
It's challenging to talk about, but fertility issues are not cheap. Indeed, many people who are desperate to have children delay seeking help precisely because they are concerned about cost. Don't choose a clinic that leaves you in the dark when it comes to finances. If answers about costs are not forthcoming, it's time to try another option. Even more important is access to quality financial counseling. The best fertility clinics work with you to set a clear budget and help you establish goals that fall within that budget. Becoming a parent may be expensive, but it should not bankrupt you.
Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Fertility Specialist
Research consistently shows that patients who ask their doctors lots of questions get better results. You're not being disrespectful or rude. Good doctors are thrilled to share their expertise and skill, and keen to discuss the specific issues a patient faces. Before you decide on a specific fertility clinic or medical provider, ask any and all questions you have. Not sure where to begin? Try some of these questions:
- What specific tests will be necessary? What will we be testing for?
- Can we start with less expensive and less invasive methods?
- What if we cannot arrive at a final diagnosis?
- How long have you been practicing?
- Do you offer evening or weekend appointments?
- Who do I call if I have an urgent question?
- What is your overall success rate? What is your success rate with patients like me?
- Is there anything I can do to increase my odds of a successful pregnancy?
- Is there anything I should avoid, such as smoking or drinking?
- Should I try alternative methods, such as acupuncture?
- Do any of my medical records indicate a medical problem could be to blame?
- Will any portion of this be covered by insurance?
- How long will it take to get a diagnosis?
- How long does it typically take to get test results?
- Do you offer referrals for second opinions?
- What is the specific cost of each recommended service?
- Which tests or services are most important to undergo? If I am concerned about finances, can you help me prioritize?
- Does your clinic offer financing?
- Does your clinic offer financial counseling?
- How much time can the doctor spend with me during each appointment?
- Will I have a primary doctor or nurse?
- Who will I be talking to or working with the most?
- Should I monitor my menstrual cycles or my partner's menstrual cycles?
- Is there any information you need from me to increase the odds of a success?
- Do you have any rules, or any patients whom you won't treat?
- If we achieve a successful pregnancy, how long will your clinic continue providing care before I have to transfer to another provider?