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Talking about possible IVF/ICSI failure and need for multiple cycles in treatment planning: qualitative investigation of multi-cycle planning and its acceptability to patients and staff

Harrison, C., Boivin, J. and Gameiro, S. 2022. Talking about possible IVF/ICSI failure and need for multiple cycles in treatment planning: qualitative investigation of multi-cycle planning and its acceptability to patients and staff. Human Reproduction 37 (3) , pp. 488-498. 10.1093/humrep/deab278

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STUDY QUESTION What are patients’ and fertility staff views of talking about possible IVF/ICSI failure and need for multiple cycles in treatment planning? SUMMARY ANSWER Healthcare professionals (HCPs) typically plan treatment on a cycle-by-cycle basis but HCPs and patients see benefits in talking about possible IVF/ICSI failure and the consequent need for multiple cycles to better prepare patients for this possibility, to support them through treatment challenges and to foster a sense of collaboration with the clinic in achieving the shared goal of treatment success. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY Many patients need more than one round of IVF/ICSI stimulation to achieve their parenthood goals. About 60% of patients are willing to plan for multiple cycles of treatment in advance of treatment engagement. However, it is not clear how patients are informed about the high possibility of failure and the subsequent need for multiple cycles during their treatment planning consultations, and how approaches could be optimized. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION Qualitative focus groups with HCPs working at fertility clinics, patient advocates employed by patient charities (April 2020) and patients (July and August 2020). Patients were eligible if they had had a consultation to start a first/repeat stimulated IVF/ICSI cycle in the 8 weeks prior to participation, were aged 18 or older (upper age limit of 42 years for women), in heterosexual relationships and fluent in English. Eligible HCPs and patient advocates were those employed at a fertility clinic or charity, respectively. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTINGS, METHOD Focus group topic guides progressed from general questions about fertility consultations to if and how the possibility of treatment failure and need for multiple cycles was introduced and discussed in (attended/own) clinics. After, preferences regarding planning IVF/ICSI on a multi-cycle or cycle-by-cycle basis were explored. Focus groups were recorded, and recordings transcribed and analysed using framework analysis to identify shared, unique and incongruent themes across participant groups. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE Twelve HCPs, 2 patient advocates and 10 patients participated in six semi-structured online focus group discussions. All patients were childless and had been trying to conceive for ∼3 years. Framework analysis generated four themes and one meta-theme across participant groups. The meta-theme showed planning IVF on a cycle-by-cycle basis is the norm at clinics and that this affects how treatment is planned and the acceptability of a shift towards planning for multiple cycles, which was perceived as beneficial despite some apprehension. The four themes were: (i) heterogeneity in information provision during treatment planning; (ii) the need for improved HCP-patient collaboration; (iii) the need to temper optimism about treatment success; and (iv) apprehension, benefits and preferences regarding multi-cycle planning. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION Most patients were women from private fertility clinics with no previous treatment experience recruited from social media websites, mainly associated with patient support groups. Similarly, most HCPs were women from private fertility clinics. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS The findings suggest that shifting from cycle-by-cycle to multi-cycle approaches in IVF planning is possible. Achieving this shift, like other shifts in IVF (e.g. single embryo transfer), is likely to require collaboration among all stakeholders (e.g. users, staff, policymakers, regulators) to ensure that costs and benefits are balanced through using appropriate benchmarks, avoiding deflating optimism, fostering a sense of collaboration and supporting patients through challenges of multi-cycle IVF. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S) This research is funded by an Investigator-Sponsor Noninterventional Study from Merck Serono Ltd (MS200059_0010), an affiliate of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. ‘Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany reviewed the manuscript for medical accuracy only before journal submission. The Authors are fully responsible for the content of this manuscript, and the views and opinions described in the publication reflect solely those of the authors’. Prof. J.B. reports personal fees from Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, Merck AB an affiliate of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt Germany, Theramex, Ferring Pharmaceuticals A/S, grant from Merck Serono Ltd, outside the submitted work and that she is co-developer of Fertility Quality of Life (FertiQoL) and MediEmo app. Dr S.G. reports consultancy fees from Ferring Pharmaceuticals A/S, Access Fertility and SONA-Pharm LLC, and grants from Merck Serono Ltd, an affiliate of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. Dr C.H. declares no conflicts of interest.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (
Publisher: European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology
ISSN: 0268-1161
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 21 December 2021
Date of Acceptance: 13 December 2021
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2022 10:27

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