AI Can Bring Improved Access and Quality of Care to the Fertility Sector

Updated on March 18, 2024

A report published by the World Health Organization in April 2023 highlighted what those of us in the fertility industry have long known: infertility is on the rise. According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 married couples in which the woman is 30-39 have problems conceiving their first child, and 1 in 8 married couples in which the woman is younger than 30 have trouble conceiving their first child. At the same time, most treatment centers are located in high-income areas – 80% of fertility care clinics in the country are located in New York City, 30% in Manhattan alone – leaving large swaths of the country as “fertility deserts” without easy access to clinics. But demand for fertility services is steadily rising, and according to BCC Research, the U.S. market for fertility clinic services is forecast to more than double in worth from $7.9 billion in 2022 to $16.8 billion by the end of 2028.

Those on the fertility journey experience intense cycles of hope and disappointment while trying to get pregnant, and tremendous financial pressure since a single IVF cycle can cost $30,000 or more – and that cost may or may not be covered by insurance. Our job is to make these treatments, which can be emotionally and financially taxing, as smooth and successful as possible for prospective parents, and more available for those who need them. Enhancing fertility outcomes and access to care requires the coordination of both patients and practitioners, and AI-supported fertility services can help bridge the divide. 

A Deloitte Center for Health Solutions study found that more than half of U.S. consumers believe generative AI could improve access issues and shorten wait times for medical care. While the industry must explore the ethical and procedural challenges of AI-supported fertility services, those looking for new fertility solutions have reason to be hopeful as AI has the potential to impact all aspects of the fertility treatment process and reduce burdens for practitioners and patients alike.

Expanded Access to Fertility Knowledge

According to Pew Research Center, 1 in 10 women in the U.S. have received fertility services, and of those, 78% said they received fertility advice. As telehealth enabled patients to meet with doctors in their homes, AI-enabled communications could allow patients to access medical advice, receive answers to common questions, or even emotional support outside of normal business hours without requiring a trip to a clinic. The media is saturated with news, medical journals, and opinions about fertility care. AI can be used to present personalized data analysis and education tools to both individuals and couples seeking fertility treatment.

Personalized and Optimized Treatments for Patients

For patients, getting pregnant can require meticulous ovulation timing, hormone balancing, and lifestyle changes. AI-powered apps can analyze patients’ data, including one’s medical history and lifestyle, to predict ovulation, optimize treatment timing, and personalize dosage regimens for ovarian stimulation. They can nudge patients to make better decisions when it comes to sleep, nutrition, stress, and consumption of alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine. AI can also detect unique ovulation patterns unbeknownst to patients and fine-tune predictions to identify precise fertile windows. With AI, patients don’t need to monitor ovulation cycles and adjust dosage regimens constantly; they can spend time preparing for a child to enter their homes.

Better Decision Making and Use of Doctors’ Time

AI can be leveraged to examine variables and patterns in embryo images, helping physicians identify the healthiest embryos with the highest reproductive potential. If practitioners can select those embryos with the highest reproductive potential for IVF, they can potentially reduce the number of unnecessary IVF cycles – significantly reducing the cost of care for patients. In addition, the U.S. only trains about 45 new reproductive endocrinologists a year to provide fertility services – with a similar number retiring each year – straining the ability of clinics to meet ever-growing demand. AI-enabled platforms can reduce administrative burdens and allow practitioners to spend more quality time with more patients, helping them think through important decisions, and facilitating the services which can only be done in person.

Ethical Considerations and Challenges

Some of the most significant challenges and considerations of AI-supported fertility services include potential biases, transparency and patient autonomy, and safety and regulation. Human-to-human interactions drive true equity and are the very essence of quality healthcare, so implementation of AI-based tools must be met with informed, cautious optimism to maximize outcomes and improve the clinical experience. 

Existing healthcare disparities may be perpetuated in AI algorithms, so it will be important to understand the impact of potential biases and work to ensure equity. AI tools should support, not replace equitable interactions.

Given tight controls on the sharing of sensitive medical data, practitioners will need to think through how they train AI models on patient data and how they get consent to use that data. Practitioners will also need to communicate how new and future patient data may be used to revise AI models, and potentially offer patients the ability to opt out of data collection. 

Ultimately, practitioners must communicate with their patients about the limitations and uncertainties of AI-based frameworks and how it may impact their care. This transparency will ensure patient autonomy and empower more informed decision-making, as individuals and couples make many important decisions throughout their fertility journeys. 

There is still much to learn about how AI can be effectively utilized in the field of reproductive medicine, and any deployments comes with great responsibility to ensure ethical development and use. Healthcare professionals, technologists, and policymakers must work together to support better fertility care and expanded access, while ensuring patient data is protected and regulatory frameworks prevent abuse. While there are challenges, the upside is great: it could revolutionize the field of fertility care.

Lynn Mason
Lynn Mason
Chief Executive Officer at IVI RMA America

Lynn Mason is Chief Executive Officer for IVI RMA America.

Thomas Molinaro
Dr. Thomas Molinaro
Chief Medical Officer at IVI RMA North America.

Dr. Thomas Molinaro is the Chief Medical Officer of IVI RMA North America.