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Infertile couples overestimate their chance of IVF success

7 July 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1055

Couples undergoing fertility treatment markedly overestimate their chance of IVF success, men to a greater extent than women, according to new research.

The research presented at the virtual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology 2020 came from a small, single-centre study at Leuven University fertility clinic in Belgium.  

'Clinics do share average success rates on their websites, but these are often only relevant to a reference population of younger patients. And many patients do not think that average success rates apply to them. They expect greater success, thinking of their healthy lifestyle or their experienced doctors,' said study author embryologist Johanna Devroe.  

Sixty-nine couples who were about to start at second or subsequent IVF cycles separately completed a questionnaire assessing their dispositional outlook and estimated their chances of IVF success. The data was then compared with the couples' personalised calculated chance of IVF live birth.

The mean calculation of live birth rate for participants in the study was 32 percent, however, the vast majority of both women and men greatly overestimated their chances of success. Women overestimated by a factor of 1.8, while men overestimated their chance of success by a factor of 2.3 with over half of the men expecting their birth rate to be more than double their calculated prognosis.

'Partners didn't differ in their dispositional outlook so we cannot fully explain the higher expected live birth rate in men by a difference in optimism,' said Devroe. 'We are now investigating this, to see if disclosing an individual's predicted success rate rather than a clinic's average success rate helps to set realistic expectations.'

Sarah Norcross, director of fertility and genetics charity, the Progress Educational Trust, said: 'This interesting, though not surprising, single-centre study, shows just how much both men and women hoping to become parents overestimate their chances of success following fertility treatment. It sends an important message to fertility clinics about the need to manage patients' expectations and support them before, during and after fertility treatment. The dramatic mismatch shown by this study where the vast majority of both men and women estimated their chance of success to be double what it actually was shows just how shocking it can be for couples when IVF does not work – which is, sadly, what happens two-thirds of the time.' 

Dr Raj Mathur, consultant gynaecologist and fertility lead at St Mary's hospital, Manchester, told BioNews: 'The findings will resonate with members of the British Fertility Society, who aim to counsel patients properly about their individual chances, while at the same time recognising the innate human bias towards positivity and hope. We support clinics and the UK fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in displaying success rates in a uniform way that can be understood by patients, and we feel that the relationship between patients and their clinicians is of the utmost importance in making decisions about whether to start or continue complex fertility treatment.'

Great expectations: patients overestimate success in IVF
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