Special Report
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Fertility clinics have been quick to adopt advanced communications technology

Online consultations reduce the possibility of infection among patients and also cut down on the need to travel for appointments

An unexpected benefit of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the increased use of advanced communications technology in the healthcare system. With hospitals and clinics attempting to minimise in-person visits as much as possible, telehealth came into its own, with many consultations and other patient interactions taking place online using Skype or Zoom or other technologies.

The Future of Fertility special report looks at how the pandemic affected IVF services, and the people availing of those services.

This not only reduces the possibility of infection among patients, it also cuts down on the need to travel for appointments and the necessity to take time off work, among other benefits.

Fertility clinics around the world were quick to adopt the technology, and in March 2020, at the beginning of the first lockdown, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued new guidelines for the US, a recommendation to “minimise in-person interactions and increase utilisation of telehealth”.


“The pandemic forced a change in thinking very quickly,” says Damien O’Dowd, group clinic director with Sims IVF. “We had to change much faster than we ever had before. Every cloud has a silver lining, I suppose. We moved consultations online and that required some adjustment for our teams and our patients. Our counsellors now do all sessions online with individuals and couples, and Instagram live events and webinars have replaced our open days.”

Own home

And the response from patients has been very good.

“Overall they are reporting a very positive experience with virtual consultations,”he says. “The feedback has been positive. They are saying it’s great. It reduces the necessity to travel to the clinic. They can talk to doctors and counsellors in the comfort of their own home.

“They can also talk to us out of hours and that means they don’t have to explain where they’re going if they’re leaving work to go to a consultation. They are also telling us that privacy has been improved as a result. There is also a much greater chance of both partners being available for the consultation.”

This isn’t the only reported benefit. “In lots of ways patients are more comfortable in asking questions and general interaction in an online setting.” O’Dowd adds. “Naturally some patients prefer face-to-face consultations and that will be an option in future, but the virtual option will continue as well.”

Event participation has also increased due to improved accessibility.

“We have seen a growth in the number of people joining our webinars and our Instagram live seminars,” he adds. “People can participate from their homes or in their cars and in complete privacy. Also a lot of people are more comfortable about sharing emotions in an online setting. Doing face-to-face online meetings is so much more common for everyone now that people are a lot more comfortable and confident using it.”

Share knowledge

There have also been benefits for Sims IVF.

“Another positive has been facilitating collaboration between our teams. We have four sites in Ireland, and that will increase to six shortly. We are able to keep staff up to date on the latest developments in a shared learning environment. The technology also allows a greater coming together of teams to discuss cases and share knowledge for the benefit of our patients.”

Advice to patients is also much easier to give on an online video call rather than on a phone line.

“If somebody is just unsure if they have got the right end of the needle or if the syringe doesn’t look right to them and so on they can go onto a Skype or Zoom call and ask,” says O’Dowd. “They can show what the problem is, and we can give them the right advice very easily. And if someone is going through a tough time in the course of their treatment it’s a lot more comfortable for them to be able to see the person they’re talking to.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times