In the U.S., birthrates have dipped to an all-time low of 1.73 births per mother.
More than anything, this is reflective of a timing shift, with more first-time mothers giving birth in their 30s or 40s rather than their 20s. The timing shift is driving demand for fertility treatment such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and egg freezing, and if those treatments can deliver, the birth rate will rise again.
However, today, fertility treatments still have a success rate of below 50% on average and only account for 2% of live births. So, the question remains: How will the industry scale?
This is where technology comes into the picture. Here are the three key ways that technology will change — and improve — fertility care.
1. Creating Access
Today there are both soft costs and hard costs that impede access to fertility care. The soft costs include the tremendous amount of time it takes to research and find solutions and plan for in-clinic visits, not to mention the hours spent managing one’s own treatment.
Then there are the hard costs. An average IVF cycle can be around $20,000 and, for most, is an out-of-pocket expense not covered by insurance.
Technology will address the soft costs by creating low-barrier ways to receive information, including but not limited to tests you can order online, digital consults that negate a clinic visit, and automated matching and booking into clinics for treatment. These services will reduce friction to getting care.
Like much of healthcare, telehealth will help replace doctor visits when and where possible, reducing cost and creating greater access.
With respect to the hard costs, financial innovation is on the way. There are already a number of online fertility loan solutions, which will give way to more customized and innovative financial products for fertility as the industry grows up.
By addressing the cost and complexity barriers, tech will open up basic access to care.
2. Building A Better Experience
Like in much of healthcare, the promise of tech is a better user experience (UX), both figuratively and literally. Tech can personalize care and provide continuity in the experience, not to mention 24/7 support.
Today’s experience is highly impersonal and mostly self-managed outside of the doctor’s office, including medication administration. With a telehealth layer and digital journeys, customers can experience connected, on-demand support from within the app of their choice. They can access their personal fertility information, profile and documents all in one place. Partners will be able to share information and connect their information to create a holistic picture. Patients will be armed with reminders and medication tracking to ensure they’re following their fertility treatment plans, improving their efficacy. Finding an egg or embryo donor — or a surrogate — will be a simple, digitally supported exercise in matchmaking instead of the manual process that exists today.
3. Driving Outcomes
Last, but certainly not least, the most important way tech will change fertility is by affecting outcomes.
Big data is coming to fertility, and it will allow us to crunch the numbers to predict which protocols work best based on a host of factors that comprise an individual’s personal fertility profile, including age, ethnicity and health history, to name a few.
Big data will also improve clinical decisions. Data will be used to train algorithms to improve the timing of procedures such as egg retrieval and the selection and implantation of embryos.
The other, not-so-obvious way that tech will change outcomes is by bending the cost curve to transform what is possible with success rates. It turns out that the financial piece is as important to outcomes as medical technology and data.
Today, the market is largely built around a single cycle of IVF. In the future, tech will be able to price risk and deliver packaged solutions with 90% or greater probability of success, and by opening up the capital markets for this asset class, these packages can be accessed at monthly rates that will still be affordable to the average consumer.
And that is how we turn around the downward trend in birth rates.