By Kate Brian, journalist, writer and author of four books on motherhood and fertility
If you are having fertility treatment, being able to place your trust in the clinic where you are being cared for is essential. When it comes to something as precious as making babies, the treatment process can be challenging and you need to have confidence in the staff and procedures at your clinic.
For many patients, one unspoken fear which often lurks in the back of their minds is the idea that there could be some kind of mix-up in the laboratory; that you might be given someone else’s embryos, eggs or sperm or that you could end up with theirs. In fact, this is so very rare that whenever it does happen it makes newspaper headlines, but if you hear of a case in the news, it can inevitably make you anxious when you are having treatment yourself.
In fact, if you ever get to spend any time in the laboratory at a reputable IVF clinic, perhaps the most striking thing isn’t the high-tech equipment or the rather strange outfits that the staff wear, but instead he amount of time that they spend on checks to make sure that there is no room for any muddling up when it comes to patients’ eggs, sperm or embryos.
Of course, different clinics do this in different ways but every sample is carefully labelled, and whenever embryologists move the dishes or straws containing eggs, sperm or embryos from one place to another in the lab, the move is checked and witnessed by another member of staff and then recorded. So, two professionals are checking that there isn’t any confusion at every single stage of your treatment.
That alone can give you some confidence in the care that clinics take, but in order to eliminate any question of human error, many clinics have now also invested in sophisticated electronic witnessing systems and barcoding systems. Under electronic witnessing systems, each patient gets a unique code when they first come along to the clinic and the code is stored on a special card with a microchip which is used to check their identity. Eggs, sperm and embryos are labelled with a special tag too and there would be an alarm if the wrong samples are put together or if the embryos don’t match the patient’s card at the time of embryo transfer. With barcoding, the eggs, sperm and embryos are all labelled with a special barcode, and this is checked against the patient’s barcode.
Patients sometimes worry that their concerns about muddles in the laboratory are silly, and don’t feel able to ask questions about this – but it is important to know that you can feel confident about safety. It doesn’t matter whether you’re still at the stage of choosing which clinic to go to, or are already on the path to treatment, you should not have any qualms about asking the clinic which kind of system they have in place to ensure that there aren’t any problems in the laboratory. Most will be happy to explain the procedures and type of technology that they use, and will want to reassure you that safety in the laboratory is of paramount importance.
Do remember that mix-ups in IVF laboratories are incredibly rare, and that knowing that specialist monitoring systems are in place along with the double checks by staff can make you feel confident. It is important to keep any concerns in perspective and to bear in mind that there are tens of thousands of cycles of fertility treatment carried out safely and accurately across the world every year.
Writer and journalist
Kate Brian is a journalist, writer and author of four books on motherhood and fertility, including The Complete Guide to IVF. Kate started writing about the patient perspective on infertility after having IVF herself.
Currently, she contributes to various types of media as an expert on fertility and writes her own blog, where she gives all the latest news and views on fertility issues, as well as useful advice and links for anyone trying to have a baby.