A lockdown we never predicted. A time we never imagined possible. Hopes and dreams placed on the backburner while we wait for our lives to return to normal.
But how can you keep acting like everything is okay when your hopes of a family are being plucked from your grasp? As a doctor, I listen to my patients expressing this pain every day as I speak to them in our Zoom Consultations.
Those struggling to conceive are already an emotionally vulnerable group, socially isolated by the painful stigma of not being able to have children naturally and often financially stretched to afford the treatment that will bring them what they so desperately hope for.
Many have faced the misery of long NHS queues only to find that when they are finally seen at the infertility clinic, they are turned away because they don’t fit the ‘criteria’ for NHS funding.
The lockdown and ceasing of fertility treatments by the fertility watchdog, the HFEA has had a brutal impact on all those who were on a fertility journey, at whatever stage that happened to be.
I often find myself explaining to those who have never had difficulty conceiving that infertility is a disease, and classified by the WHO as such, and that IVF is for many, a very effective treatment.
However, it is extremely time sensitive. For every month that goes by, the chances of an IVF treatment succeeding reduces, as a woman’s ovarian reserve decreases. The older you are, the greater the impact of even a short two or three month delay. That is why my patients yearn to be doing something as they sit this whole lockdown nightmare out.
The Agora Clinic has always been at the forefront of new technology and putting patient’s needs first. So when a chance meeting with a Danish research group last year introduced me to the concept of home sperm testing, I was immediately excited by the possibilities this created.
Whilst initially sceptical, I decided to explore the science behind this further to see if such a test could be accurate and, more importantly, feasible. I often find men are either simply too busy or just reluctant to attend the clinic for a sperm test, yet the male partner is responsible for at least half of all fertility problems we see in couples.
Some men also feel much more comfortable with testing themselves in the privacy of their own home where it is unobtrusive and controllable. Offering the convenience and comfort of testing at home seemed like the perfect solution to a post COVID-19 lockdown society, where there can be little or no face to face contact with your patients unless you are dealing with an emergency.
I was pleasantly surprised at how patient friendly and scientifically reliable the home test was and felt that right now it had its place to help those couples wanting to explore their fertility health at a time when social distancing restrictions were still in place.
Alongside the male test, I also researched home hormone testing for the woman, knowing that the two combined would create the perfect initial fertility screen for couples struggling to conceive.
With female hormone testing also available from the comfort of your home, now is the perfect time to get the scores on your fertility. The best part is it is so easy to use and only takes a few days to get the results!
So this is how, during the era of COVID-19, ‘Fertility Telemedicine’ and our ‘virtual fertility MOTs’ were born at the Agora. A post lockdown phenomenon, where home testing is followed up with a Zoom Medical Consultation with a fertility expert, who reviews your medical history and fertility tests and guides you through your treatment options.
Our home fertility MOTs are proving to be more popular than Joe Wicks exercise classes! Why?
From the comfort of your own home, and in complete privacy, produce your sperm sample when it suits you, perhaps with the assistance of your partner. You can then check your result, there and then, through the phone app that comes with the device. The app even offers you lifestyle advice to improve your sperm health.
As a woman, you can neatly unpack your blood test kit onto the kitchen table, and a bit like a diabetic, do a simple finger prick test to collect your blood sample.
Within just a few minutes, that small blood sample will have been squeezed into a tiny bottle which you pack in a labelled prepaid jiffy bag and post to the laboratory.
Is this for the faint-hearted I hear you say? Probably not but I would hope that if you are a bit squeamish and needle phobic, there is a gallant knight in shining armour in the form of your partner who can give you a bit of a helping hand!
Whether Fertility and other forms of Telemedicine are just a lockdown phenomenon or the future of medical diagnostics in the UK we shall see, but I for one have my money on this being the preferred option for many when we are released from the restrictions imposed on us by the current social distancing measures.
At the Agora, we have also been able to offer home hormone testing to women with a variety of other problems such as menopausal symptoms and irregular cycles, again cutting the waiting time and stress in trying to get a doctor’s appointment.
To find out more about how you can have your own ‘Virtual Fertility MOT’ visit our website: www.agoraclinic.co.uk or call 01273 229410