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Fear. Embarrassment. Intimidation. There are many reasons why couples struggling with infertility may not seek medical care, says William Schoolcraft, M.D., founder and medical director of Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM).
A new pilot program by CCRM and Ferring Pharmaceuticals Inc. that launched in Denver earlier this month aims to reduce these barriers.
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Called “Fertility House Calls,” the initiative provides couples (or individuals) with free, in-person medical and financial counseling. Through an online form, interested folks can request a 45-minute appointment with a CCRM fertility nurse and financial counselor at a comfortable location—whether that’s the couple’s home, a local coffee shop, or elsewhere—to discuss their infertility issues and learn about treatment options without the formality and cost of a doctor’s office visit.
The goal of Fertility House Calls, says Schoolcraft, is to lower the bar to getting help and de-stigmatize the process of testing and treatment for infertility, a common issue that affects approximately 12 to 13 percent of American couples, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“It’s a no-risk introduction where [the couple or individual] can either say, ‘Wow, that sounds less scary than I thought; I think I want to follow up and get some testing, maybe some access to treatment.’ Or they could say, ‘Gosh, that’s not for me,’ but it offers them a way to take the first step without quite the drama of making a formal doctor visit,” Schoolcraft says.
The program also aims to provide more precise—and personalized—health information compared to what a Google search might reveal.
“So much of the stuff you can look at online is not accurate and sometimes not appropriate for [every couple],” Schoolcraft says. “So [Fertility House Calls] allows them to talk to somebody who really can say, ‘For your particular case, here’s what would be important and here’s what would be possible.’”
Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a global biopharma company with U.S. headquarters in New Jersey, developed the idea for the initiative, says Schoolcraft, and the two organizations worked together for about a year to develop the pilot program protocols and materials leading up to the launch on January 7.
Though the current program staff is small (four fertility nurses and three financial counselors), Schoolcraft says it will be expanded if the need increases. So far, the program has received about 20 inquiries and booked 14 appointments during its first two weeks of operation.
For the next six months, Schoolcraft says any and all residents in the Denver metro area who are struggling to conceive can schedule an appointment through the Fertility House Calls website.
Folks who do so can expect to meet with a fertility nurse who will first ask questions about their history with infertility, including any treatment options they’ve already tried. Then, the nurse will guide them through what they could expect if they visited a fertility clinic, explaining initial tests that could be performed as well as common reasons for infertility (like male factor, tubal disease, endometriosis, and ovulation problems) and treatment options.
“Once people understand those two concepts—here’s how they can find out what’s wrong with me and here’s the treatment that can get me a baby—suddenly they become often much more excited,” says Schoolcraft.
From there, a financial counselor will help participants understand their insurance benefits and coverage and outline the cost of available treatment options. Learning about the financial piece is “also often reassuring,” says Schoolcraft.
CCRM and Ferring Pharmaceuticals plan to pilot Fertility House Calls in Denver for the next six months with the aim of reaching as many interested people as possible. From there, Schoolcraft says the companies will evaluate the program’s effectiveness to determine if expansion to other cities makes sense.
“I’m hoping it’ll continue long-term,” he says.