Pandemic Fertility Trends: How Your Practice Can Adapt
Posted by Janna Vienca Cañezal
The ongoing pandemic has dramatically affected every decision that we make in our lives, including the desire for parenthood. Economic stress, worries about finances and job stability, and general uncertainty have shifted how women feel about having children. As families continue to grapple with an unclear future, fertility clinics are caught in the middle.
In a June survey, the Guttmacher Institute found more than 40% of prospective mothers had already changed their plans around having children due to the pandemic. 34% of those women reported that they instead wanted to postpone getting pregnant.
COVID-19 and the Desire for Parenthood
Although it’s challenging to get a precise, national picture of the pandemic’s secondary effects, especially while we’re still living through it, fertility clinics across the country are reporting an increase in inquiries regarding egg freezing. The lockdown has forced people to reflect on their lives and their priorities.
Women are looking into the pandemic’s long-term effects, including their chances of finding the right partner, as restrictions make dating nearly impossible. Also, as is common in times of economic struggle, an increasing number of couples are reconsidering family plans, all while trying to keep future options open.
In recent years, numerous tech companies and startups have been including egg freezing as part of their benefits package to attract female employees. With the threat of losing their jobs or facing cutbacks on benefits due to the pandemic, women are taking advantage of the egg freezing coverage before it’s gone. With no clear end in sight yet for when the pandemic will be over, more and more couples are turning to these back-up options.
Historically, after significant catastrophes, events like wars, pandemics, or natural disasters, fertility trends decline at first, then rise sharply. That same trend was evident in several countries following the 1918 influenza pandemic and following everything from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Indonesia to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Oklahoma City Bombing.
A combination of rebuilding families, an increased sense of community solidarity, and the fear and the trauma of losing loved ones historically motivates higher fertility rates. Experts initially predicted a COVID baby bump too. However, COVID-19, combined with economic instability, is unlike any other crisis we have experienced before, so it’s hard to determine the range of its repercussions and what the trend will be.
Instead of a 'Baby Bump,' we might be seeing a 'Baby Bust', with 2020 recording hundreds of thousands fewer births in the US than the year before, a massive dip that likely is a consequence of a declining birth rate overall. Some projections, though, place the ultimate decline at 10-13 percent for 2021.
With so much uncertainty, unfortunately, only time will tell.
What Can Fertility Clinics Do
Although COVID-19 related concerns are negatively impacting people’s wellbeing, 17% of women still said they wanted to have a child sooner or wanted more children because of the pandemic. Furthermore, some experts argue we will end up seeing the post-event spike in birth rates after all.
While there is still so much discussion around the future of fertility, it is best to be prepared, whatever the outcome might be. Here’s what your fertility clinic can do to help uncertain couples and make sure your clinic has the right tools to help families wrestling with the future.
1. Improve Your Online Presence and Resources
More people than ever turn to websites and social media throughout a decision-making process to research a procedure or a clinic. It’s best to make yourself visible online.
Let your potential patients know the services you are offering and provide informational articles or blogs on your website to answer any questions couples might have. If they feel unsafe visiting your clinic, you can communicate through online channels the safety precautions your clinic follows to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
2. Use Telehealth for Consultations
If a couple is unsure whether a procedure is a good option for them, you can use Telehealth to initiate a general consult that doesn’t need a face to face interaction. If your practice offers counseling services and mental health support before and during fertility treatments, Telehealth is a great platform for that.
3. Engage Patients through Patient Portals and Apps
To help your patients understand their fertility treatment process better, give them access to their ART calendar and other resources. In that way, they can track and manage the procedures and tasks they need to complete during the process. Through patient portals or apps you can also include instructions on how to undertake specific procedures, such as self-administered injections.
4. Provide Flexible Payment Options
Increase patient satisfaction while making sure you get paid by opening up online payment options for your patients. Finding a payment processor that integrates with your practice website, a potential patient portal, and your EHR for a smoother billing workflow can make all the difference. Plus, your staff will thank you.
5. Stronger Remote Capabilities
Clinics had to adapt rapidly when the American Society for Reproductive Medicine called for a suspension of new cycles earlier in the pandemic. Although the restrictions have long since lifted, and clinics have adapted to the change, it is wise to be even more prepared and build stronger systems in case you and your staff need to work remotely again. Adopt cloud services for various aspects of your clinic like faxing, call management, and your EHR.
Use an EHR that Adapts to an Ever-Changing Landscape
The healthcare industry is continuously changing as new technologies, and new challenges come into the picture. That shifting field means healthcare providers need to be prepared to change too. Every practice will need all the tools they can get, and an EHR is the most powerful tool a provider can have to upgrade their practice. Ask your EHR provider what tools they have available.