We’ve heard chatter from time to time in our community from those considering travel to other countries for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other fertility treatments. International medical tourism, seeking medical services outside the U.S., is a growing trend. American citizens are increasingly traveling to other countries to obtain medical care, including infertility treatments like IVF. Many who seek medical treatments internationally often do so to save money. But if you choose to go internationally for IVF, make sure that you know exactly what is involved.
Here is a story that underscores the importance of doing your homework before seeking medical treatments abroad: In 2011, many women who had received silicone gel breast implants in countries outside the U.S. were being advised to have their implants removed. A French company had manufactured these implants with a cheaper form of industrial-grade silicone, rather than medical grade silicone, and some of the recipients of the implants were getting sick. Around the world, women suddenly had to decide whether to remove their implants, replace them, or just keep them in. Many of the women were unexpectedly paying for new implants just a few years after their original surgeries.
If you choose to go overseas for fertility treatments know that each country has different standards and regulations regarding medical facilities, procedures, and devices, including fertility treatments. Drugs and devices approved in Europe, India, and elsewhere may not be approved for use in the U.S., and vice versa.
We searched for information about this topic on infertility education websites as well as some private international IVF websites. It was difficult to find factual and reputable information about the risks, benefits, and costs of international IVF. If you choose to go abroad for fertility treatments, you will probably be doing a lot of homework and research on your own.
We want our community to be fully educated about international IVF and fertility treatments and we encourage you to think about the following if this fertility option is one you are considering.
Safety issues of international IVF
Who is regulating international clinics? Should you bring medical records and records of your prescriptions to your visits? As mentioned in the breast implant example above, international fertility clinics may offer different medications or materials for use in fertility procedures compared to U.S. clinics.
International IVF success rates
Each country has different ways of reporting and tracking IVF success rates. In the U.S., most fertility clinics follow the same IVF success rate reporting standards established by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART). How will you know how an international fertility clinic’s IVF success rates compare to your local fertility clinic’s IVF success rates?
Complications of international IVF
If IVF complications arise or you become ill, will you have to pay out-of-pocket for medical services abroad, or will a short-term travel insurance policy cover you? Will you or your family members be able to take legal recourse against an international fertility clinic or provider if death or serious injury occurs? If complications occur, how long will you stay abroad to make sure that everything is OK?
Language and cultural barriers
What if your nurses, staff, and doctors abroad do not speak English? Will you need to bring a translator? What if your IVF cycle is not successful? Will you go back to that clinic a second, or third, time? Will the clinic keep any remaining frozen embryos for you for future IVF cycles? How often are you willing to travel to that same location for future IVF cycles? Will traveling add increased stress to IVF, which is already very stressful, and can you handle that? When will it be safe for you to fly after your procedure?
One of the most important concerns regarding international IVF is what to do if complications arise. Dr. Drew Moffitt, fertility specialist at Arizona Reproductive Medical Specialists recommends, “It is important to think about who will take care of any complications of your treatment. The doctor who did the procedure is the one responsible for taking care of any complications (like OHSS if it occurs). It will be difficult to find an infertility specialist in the U.S. willing to deal with complications that have occurred from treatment you received abroad. You should therefore make sure that you stay abroad at the clinic long enough to make sure that you are not having a complication of IVF.”