Although the story did not hit all our marks, it did provide some important context for readers, especially patients who are considering fertility options. We wish most of all that it had spent more time with a few independent experts to provide some stronger analysis of the study and to help readers understand the potential harms involved in fertility treatments.
The world of fertility medicine can be maddening — both for patients and reporters. Costs are high. New techniques are being touted with some frequency. And even though there appears to be a wealth of data about outcomes, the information is incomplete and hard to assess. Because fertility patients are dealing with one of life’s most difficult health challenges — the inability to have a child — it is all the more important for reporters to separate the emotions surrounding infertility from the evidence behind fertility treatments. This refreshing story accomplishes this, for the most part, with just a few missing elements.
Important information about costs is provided here.
The story quantifies the benefits of multiple IVF treatments (and the diminishing returns) in two different ways. Here’s the best summation: “Over the five-year period, some 300,000 women had more than half a million IVF cycles that resulted in 171,327 first-time deliveries. The live birth rate was 36 percent on the first IVF try, 48 percent with a second cycle and 53 percent with a third attempt. Among those who tried seven or more times, the chance of success was 56 percent — hardly any better than the 53 percent after three tries.”
This story skips over any potential harms. This is problematic because women undergoing fertility treatments are often given high doses of hormones and other drugs that can have side effects and often are experimental.
The story does a good job evaluating the quality of the evidence. It also provides some great context about why data about success rates can be misleading. It also presented some of the study’s limitations. The story could have pointed out that these results have not been published and have not been peer reviewed. It does say they were presented at a conference but so are a lot of published results. The findings sound dramatic, so that additional context would be important lest the peer review process take some of the drama out of the results when they are published (one assumes) at a later data.
The story does not engage in disease mongering.
The story clearly draws on a range of sources and research, but we only are allowed to hear from one clinical voice in the the story: the study’s lead author. There is a paraphrase from a fertility advocacy organization at the very end of the story, but what was needed here was some clear eyed analysis of the evidence from an independent perspective.
The story at least touches on alternatives to IVF, but it does not make any clear comparisons.
It is clear from the story that IVF treatments are widely available. The study encompassed more than 300,000 women nationwide.
The story did a good job of covering what is new here: more is not more. The story could have done a better job showing how frequently couples actually go through three cycles of IVF. This is a bit of an omission. Also it’s not clear how often couples with fertility choose IVF over less-invasive treatments.
The story does not rely solely on a press release.