Friday, January 23, 2015

Embryoscope - the high cost IVF marketing gimmick

The medical field is evolving at an almost hypersonic pace and new technology is being researched and launched rapidly  . The fact is that patients who are eager to get pregnant, are easily impressed by all the technical jazz that some IVF clinics throw at them. And who could blame them? When strong marketing words like “latest” and “state-of-the-art” are thrown randomly at them, they are bound to be dazzled.

Embryoscopy is the latest gizmo on the IVF medical technology block that has caught the attention of those who are looking to expand their families. Many doctors tout the  fact that they are now using the embryoscope at their IVF clinics. The claim they make is that using this latest piece of equipment will dramatically improve pregnancy success rates. It's a competitive market, and every doctor tries to play the oneupmanship game. The trouble is that it's the patients who pay the price !

Scoping the Embryoscope

So, what exactly is the embryoscope? It’s a type of incubator with an in-built camera. This piece of equipment has the capability to take multiple pictures of a patient’s embryo, every hour. These pictures are strung together to create a time-lapse video that shows the development of the embryo at every stage. This helps the embryologist assess how well each embryo is developing and then select the best ones for transfer.

Like any new medical equipment, an embryosope doesn’t come cheap. IVF clinics buy this to " prove " they are in-sync with the times , but they also have to recover costs. This latest acquisition therefore becomes the latest “window dressing” and will feature very prominently on their website and all their advertising materials. This is used to lure customers to their clinic and away from the competition.

This marketing tactic works very well on patients who are eager to get pregnant and will go the whole nine yards to have that baby- and if it means that the embryoscope is going to increase the chances  of a successful IVF procedure, then so be it- they will opt for it. The additional Rs 30,000 that they are asked to pay for use of the embryosope in their treatment seems of little consequence if it brings them a step closer to their dream of cuddling a baby in their arms - which is what the embryoscope marketing materials promise.

Revelation Time

Now, let’s take a look at what goes on behind the closed doors of the IVF clinics. Many clinics cheat patients in that they claim they are using an embryosope, while they really aren’t. Let me explain- 

Each EmbryoScope has the capacity to culture only up to 72 eggs or embryos from a maximum of 6 patients at a time. They have to be observed over a period of 5 days ( for a blastocyst transfer). This means that one embryoscope can typically be used for only 1 patient every 5 days. Thus, if there are 3 egg collections daily, the embryoscope will be fully blocked in a 2 -day period for a total of 5 days.

This means that the embryoscope cannot be used for another patient who is cycling at the same time.  Embryoscopes are expensive, and most clinics cannot invest in more than one piece. And so, if a busy clinic is telling all the patients who are cycling at the same time that they are using an embryoscope for each of them, they are clearly pulling the wool over their eyes!

Just Verify

So how can you shield yourself from being conned? Remember that the purpose of an embryoscope is to take a series of images of your embryos as they develop in vitro. If the IVF clinic tells you that it is using an embryoscope for you (and charging you extra for this), then you need to insist that they give you a images of your embryos, so you can verify this.  You can see what these should look like by checking out the image above.

The embryoscope automatically provides a video output, and you should ask for a copy of this; so you at least have documentation that an embryoscope was actually used for your care (even though using this does not improve your pregnancy rates). This is the simple way in which you can ensure your doctor is using the procedure you are being charged for. After all, the proof is in the pudding, isn’t it?

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  1. Even if you ask for verification, say timelapse video of the embryo development how would you be sure that it's your embryo?

    1. Great question. All these images have date and time stamps.

      However, at the end of the day, I agree you need to be able to trust your IVF doctor ! Embryo images are a useful tool to build more trust between doctor and patient !


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