Podcasts can vary considerably in quality; more serious ones can tend toward dryness and risk audience disengagement. At the other end are more free-form podcasts, where celebrity pundits giggle through a half-hour set of in-jokes, never quite getting to the point. So much depends upon the skill of the facilitator to keep things tight, focused and, in the case of informative podcasts like the one for review here, to fill in the gaps left by the interviewee.
At this useful end of the spectrum, then, we find the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) podcast on IVF. An organisation of professionals 'dedicated to the practice of assisted reproductive technologies', SART is an influential body in the US. 'SART Fertility Experts' is an educational project that aims to inform prospective patients about the various options available, through a series of podcasts conducted by experts working in assisted conception, including reproductive endocrinologists, reproductive urologists, genetic counsellors and mental health professionals.
The episode for review, 'What is IVF?' is structured as a one-to-one interview aiming to inform potential patients about the various types of IVF available in the US. In the space of a half-hour, Professor Elizabeth Ginsburg, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Harvard Medical School takes the listener through a comprehensive overview of what IVF is, in its many versions, discussing, along the way, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and donor IVF as well as lifestyle factors and options for funding. She is interviewed by another distinguished expert, Dr Brooke Rossi, an endocrinology and infertility specialist and adjunct assistant professor in the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Columbus University, Ohio.
The podcast is chiefly concerned with the mechanics of IVF, with Professor Ginsburg explaining clearly the processes involved and the rationale for choosing a specific form of treatment, including the various options available for embryo testing.
Other practicalities discussed include the costs associated with IVF in the US as well as suggested funding streams available to patients. Professor Ginsburg lays out clearly the reasons for these costs and outlines the specific processes involved that the patient may not be aware of - always a useful reminder when contemplating the final bill for an intervention. In this US specific podcast, all the information reflects national practice.
Elsewhere the patient's health is under scrutiny, with obesity being cited as an inhibiting factor to successful IVF. BMI, mentioned here, might be considered a less than perfect metric in updated studies. Professor Ginsburg describes other factors, such as smoking and age, while acknowledging the difficulties in balancing the data against the many individual factors (eg, a high BMI in younger patients).
Medical terminology is kept to a minimum and complex ideas are expressed with clarity and simplicity - even when discussing pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) which is a potentially challenging subject for non-experts. The interviewer skilfully summarises and clarifies any of the more difficult concepts.
Is it useful to patients? Yes, if, having navigated the familiar grind of problem and diagnosis, they are keen to start from first principles once more, and embark on a pitstop tour of available options on the treatment menu. If a particular sample of the audience is looking for specifics (and let's face it, a prospective ICSI patient will probably know what they are looking for and want to skip the opportunity to understand more about donor IVF, for example), a more targeted discussion would be useful.
As a former IVF patient myself with a first round of donor IVF 26 years ago, I would have been grateful for this podcast, which provides a general but far from dumbed-down introduction to the procedures involved. Very quickly, however, I would find myself wanting more specific information related to my own circumstances. A cursory glance at the other episodes available so far in the series establishes that the intention is to examine particular issues. A more recent episode deals with fibroids, another with donor eggs and as further podcasts are released, there is every chance that they will cover areas that are specific to a significant body of patients.
The project stresses its aim to provide up to date information and with the quality of expertise available in these discussions, this is very much in evidence. On this basis, the rest of the series should provide an invaluable resource for patients looking to supplement their knowledge about assisted conception as well as the medical conditions that lead to it. It is useful with the proviso that it is a US project, affiliated to private clinics and as such may reflect some differences in approach, as well as in the information about funding. With resources about IVF now easy to obtain online, prospective patients in this country may want to start with the excellent information available from the NHS and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).