A recent analysis, published in Social Science and Medicine, reviewed more than 20 studies involving 4,300 women and concluded that anxiety and depressive symptoms are not associated with poor fertility treatment outcomes. These findings held true for women regardless of their age, how long they had been trying to conceive and whether or not they had been treated for infertility previously.
While good news for patients and their reproductive endocrinologists alike, it doesn't diminish the need for IVF support to keep patient anxiety in check. Below are a few tips on how reproductive endocrinologists can offer IVF support to paitents to keep them calm throughout their IVF journies.
Hold Her Hand, Especially During the First IVF Cycle
The first cycle is scary for most patients, making IVF support particularly vital during this period. Patients are having hormones injected; they're unsure exactly how they'll respond to stimulation; IVF likely costs a good amount of their savings or could even be sending them into debt. And throughout all of this, there is a possibility it won't work.
Reproductive endocrinologists should guide patients through each step of the process. For example, physicians ought to create a handout that explains what to expect during an IVF cycle, send it to patients in advance and be prepared to answer questions.
Then, doctors should provide a typed version of their protocol with an approximate timeline, which can then be updated with required cycle adjustments.
Communicating early, often and clearly will ease anxiety and offer the IVF support patients need.
Develop Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others while simultaneously managing one's own emotions. To provide the IVF support patients deserve, physicians should show empathy during the devastating moments and excitement during the celebratory ones.
For example, it will go a long way if you express sincere condolences and acknowledge that patients need time to grieve after a failed cycle, and call them with a personal congratulations following a successful cycle. For those doctors who already have a keen sense of emotional intelligence, remember it is a skill that can be continually be developed.
Have the Right Team
Any fertility clinic that does not currently offer each patient a single point of contact should do so immediately. Knowing that someone — even if it's not their reproductive endocrinologist — is up to speed on their particular case and readily available for IVF support goes a long way.
In addition, fertility clinics would be wise to hire a mental health professional, even if only on a part-time basis. It's crucial that this individual be knowledgeable about delivering IVF support.
If this is not possible, reproductive endocrinologists should instead provide a list of any local therapists who specialize in infertility, as well as infertility coaches, many of which work remotely.
If the point person for a patient's case is out of the office, there should be a designated backup already in place. Continuity and accesibility are key.
Invest in a Patient Portal
Knowledge is power. Reproductive endocrinologists should put the power of IVF support in patients' hands by transitioning to an online patient portal. All records should be accessible 24/7. Additionally, patients should be able to message their point person and expect a prompt response.
When possible, however, physicians should call patients directly with bad news. The portal should not be updated until this call is made.
New technologies — particularly in the realm of ultrasound technology — are making it easier than ever before for physicians to communicate electronically with patients. For example, Tricefy is a cloud-based ultrasound system that allows doctors to quickly and securely share images and exam results with their patients and with other members of the care team, including referring physicians who may be collaborating on a diagnosis.
Consider the Patient a Part of Their Own Treatment Team
Reproductive endocrinologists should invite patients into the process, listening to their questions and concerns, valuing their opinion and input and engaging in a two-way dialogue. It's also important not to rush appointments. Doctors shouldn't leave the room unless conversation has concluded and the patient is as satisfied as possible.
Offer Support Groups and Other Resources
Perhaps the simplest way to offer IVF support is in the form of in-person meetings, online groups through a platform like Facebook and a blog or resource section on the clinic's website. Content can include articles, images and even videos.
While IVF and anxiety will always go hand-in-hand, physicians can make many changes to the way they offer IVF support in order to help patients cope throughout the process.