What is willingness, preference and decision-making about planning for the possibility of needing multiple cycles of IVF/ICSI treatment among patients consulting for a first or repeat stimulated IVF/ICSI cycle?
The majority of patients seem to value the opportunity to plan for multiple cycles of treatment while acknowledging both possible challenges and benefits of doing so and decisions that might need to be made in advance.
Patients have strong intentions to do treatment to achieve pregnancy and approximately 48-54% continue treatment when confronted with a failed cycle, undergoing at least three complete cycles of treatment. However, there is inconsistency between this apparent willingness to do multiple cycles of treatment and the way treatment is currently planned on a cycle-by-cycle basis with patients.
The study was of cross-sectional design, comprising a mixed-methods English online survey posted between November 2019 and March 2020. Eligibility criteria were being a patient who had had a consultation to start a stimulated cycle of IVF/ICSI for the first time or for a repeat stimulated cycle after an unsuccessful cycle in the eight weeks prior to survey completion. Individuals were also required to be aged 18 or older (upper age limit of 42 years for women) and able to respond in English. In total 881 clicked on the survey link, 118 did not consent, 41 were excluded after data screening, 57 did not meet the inclusion criteria, 331 started the survey but did not complete it, 28 had missing data on critical variables (e.g., age) and 306 completed the survey (40.1% completion, 57 men, 249 women).
Participants were allocated to either the willing or unwilling to plan for multiple cycles of treatment group based on their responses to three variables: willingness to plan for three complete cycles, whether they would choose to have another cycle of IVF and whether they would continue treatment after an unsuccessful cycle. Quantitative questions gathered data on preferences towards planning for multiple cycles (i.e., attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control), challenges, benefits of planning for multiple cycles, decisional conflict experienced and treatment decisions involved in planning for multiple cycles. Demographic, fertility and fertility treatment information were also collected. Qualitative questions gathered textual data on other perceived benefits and challenges of planning for multiple cycles and solutions to the challenges. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used on quantitative data. Thematic analysis (inductive coding) was performed on the textual data.
Overall, 73.2% (n = 224) of participants had had a consultation to start a first cycle of IVF/ICSI. Participants were on average 33 years of age and had been trying to conceive for three years. A total of 63.07% (n = 193) were university educated. A total of 56% (n = 172) of participants were willing to plan for multiple cycles of IVF/ICSI in advance of treatment. Repeated measures ANOVA, t-tests and chi-square analysis showed the willing group to be significantly more likely to have been in a relationship for longer (p<.05), have higher education (p<.05) and be resident in the United Kingdom (p<.05). The willing group had positive attitudes towards planning for multiple cycles (p<.001) and stronger agreement with subjective norms (p<.001), perceived behavioural control (p<.001), benefits of planning for multiple cycles (p<.01) and felt able and attached more importance to making treatment decisions in advance of treatment (p<.05). Data saturation was achieved for the thematic analysis of textual data which revealed a total of four other challenges (e.g., less decisional freedom) and six other benefits (e.g., having a realistic view of treatment) to planning for multiple cycles. Qualitative analysis also revealed that most patients could anticipate and provide solutions for the nine challenges of planning for multiple cycles (e.g., using flexible working for the negative effect of treatment on work).
Limitations included the outcome measure being willingness to plan for multiple cycles rather than actual multi-cycle planning behaviour. The unwilling group represented a heterogeneous group with possibly unknown motivational coherence (e.g., definitely against planning, ambivalent about planning). Other limitations included the cross-sectional nature of the survey and the recruitment source.
Treatment consultations about undergoing fertility treatment could re-frame treatment to be a multi-cycle process in line with patient's willingness, preference and decision-making. This multi-cycle approach could empower patients and clinicians to discuss treatment expectations realistically and formulate fully informed treatment plans that take account of the high likelihood of cycle failure in addition to the treatment decisions that may need to be made during treatment when a cycle fails. This multi-cycle approach could help us support patients in adhering to their treatment plans even when faced with challenges, and help ascertain the level of treatment engagement possible to achieve parenthood goals.
This project is funded by an Investigator-Sponsor Non-interventional Study from Merck Serono Ltd (MS200059_0010). Professor Boivin 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. Gameiro reports consultancy fees from Ferring Pharmaceuticals A/S, Access Fertility and SONA-Pharm LLC, and grants from Merck Serono Ltd. Dr. Harrison declares no conflicts of interest.