Key stakeholders, including private employers, clinicians, and researchers, all have critical roles to play in expanding access to fertility care, Tammy Sun, Carrot CEO and Co-founder, shared at Fertility 2023 in Belfast, UK.
Sun spoke to an audience of fertility clinicians and practitioners in the UK about existing gaps in care access, how these gaps vary across geographies, and the importance of patient education, especially as innovative research continues to make fertility care less invasive and more accessible.
Expanding conversations around hormonal health
Sun discussed growing conversations around hormonal health as a key part of fertility healthcare, noting that the UK is further along than the U.S. in supporting those experiencing menopause and perimenopause symptoms.
“From my experience and what I saw in existing healthcare coverage, there was often more of a focus on fertility for younger patients rather than on hormonal changes later in life,” said Sun. "But those late-stage changes have an enormous impact on personal and public health outcomes — and by extension, economies and societies.”
To improve both health outcomes and quality of life, Sun highlighted the value of workplace fertility benefits that also provide menopause support and celebrated the creation of a menopause taskforce in the UK.
More education is needed around evidence-based guidelines
"Fertility care is complex, and patients are often left on their own to make care decisions based on limited knowledge," said Sun. "This lack of education can lead to unnecessary treatments, worsening the patient experience without improving outcomes."
“Among our partner employers and clinics, we’re seeing that it is not enough to only connect these employees with care,” said Sun. “Employers also want their employees to have educational resources that accompany their care, so they can make more informed choices that can lead to better health outcomes.”
Sun noted that CDC statistics show that approximately 85 - 90% of infertility cases in the U.S. are treated with drug therapy, directed to IVF, or undergo surgical procedures, but only one in three patients who seek infertility services actually require treatment beyond basic medical advice. As evidence-based guidelines evolve, it’s critical that patients have access to up-to-date guidance provided in layperson’s terms. Care navigation provided through a fertility benefit staffed with fertility experts can make a significant difference.
Health systems and culture impact access to care
Health systems as well as cultural nuances all impact who can seek care — and importantly, how much it will cost at the individual level.
“At Carrot, we have seen how important it is to support people navigating their complex and ever-changing health systems so they can get care when and where they need it. “
Policy changes also have a significant impact on access to care. In the UK, for example, changes that came through the HFEA last year extended the length of time eggs, sperm, and embryos can be stored. Providing guidance related to these ongoing policy changes is another key element of fertility care navigation so individuals can understand their options, any restrictions that might apply to them, and how to make the most of their fertility coverage.
Employer-based benefits can be part of the solution
Sun closed her presentation by discussing how employer-based benefits can close gaps in access, even in areas with robust public support for fertility healthcare and family forming. The right benefits can ensure more people have access to the life-changing care fertility clinicians and researchers are bringing forward.
“Because of the scientific developments and clinical care improvements that many of you in this room are advancing, treatments are becoming more effective and less invasive,” said Sun. “This is all enormously encouraging. Now, we need to make sure this progress continues and is expanded to more patients.”
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