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Why fertility apps can’t replace a doctor

Whether it’s groceries, clothes shopping, food delivery or banking, there’s an app for just about everything these days.

All in the name of convenience, accessibility, and instant gratification, startups are ‘disrupting’ industries and making even the most complex tasks possible through digital channels.

The field of infertility is no exception – you can now buy an at-home finger prick test to measure reproductive hormones, order a genetic test that promises to screen for variants linked to infertility, or use your lunch break to visit a ‘fertility van that tests AMH (Anti-Mullerian hormone, which is a blood test that can help evaluate egg reserve) levels on the street.

And while all these services may help you start thinking about your fertility and give you some useful information about what’s happening inside your body – which is good – you shouldn’t mistake them for replacing a visit to the doctor’s office.

Here’s why:

  • Infertility is complicated. It takes a professional to make sense of the big picture.
    • As those struggling with infertility know, infertility is not a simple diagnosis. There could be multiple causes that contribute to your difficulty conceiving that can’t be tested with a single drop of blood. For example, thyroid and auto-immune disease can contribute to infertility, and fibroids and polyps can also causes issues. Infertility testing at a doctor’s office follows a checklist: since both men and women can contribute to a couple’s infertility, male partners should do a semen analysis that checks for sperm motility, morphology (appearance) and count. Women should be checked for all the hormones that affect fertility, and undergo testing to ensure their fallopian tubes are open and ready to facilitate the meeting of egg and sperm. If the couple are carriers of genetic disease, they’ll need to undergo additional testing. When you see a reproductive endocrinologist, most of this testing can be done or scheduled at your first visit, sparing you the guessing game of what else needs to be tested and whether the results are reliable.
  • A doctor is your advocate from start to finish, and is more knowledgeable than Dr. Google.
    • Your reproductive endocrinologist is really your one stop shop for everything you’ll need on your fertility journey. Not only can they administer all the diagnostic testing you’ll need, they can also perform any necessary procedures to prepare your uterus for a healthy pregnancy, and answer any questions you have along the way in a compassionate manner (infertility can be stressful and you’ll want a knowledgeable ally to help you through the process). Best of all, they can use their collective medical knowledge – about you and the science of infertility – to offer insights you’d have a lot of difficulty finding in an app or through a Google search.
  • If you do decide to undergo egg freezing or IVF, your doctor will be able to cater a treatment plan just for you.
    • If you end up needing any type assisted reproduction, from IUI to IVF or egg freezing, you’ll want to find a reproductive endocrinologist – IVF is not something you can buy online. Wouldn’t you want to go through that process with one doctor who knows your history and can offer you treatment that is right for your specific situation? For example, did you know that dietary changes can help some women get pregnant? It’s true, but a doctor can only recommend that change if they have a good grasp on your overall health profile – something that’s tough for an internet algorithm to crack, despite the best technology.

Here’s the point, ladies: when you take disparate tests that give you a peek (not a detailed, comprehensive view) into your fertility, you simply don’t have all the information you need to understand where you fall on the fertility spectrum. Having only a portion of the information you need can cause unnecessary anxiety about being infertile, or it can give you a false sense of hope about being about to conceive way down the line.

When you see a fertility doctor, on the other hand, you’ll get a trustworthy medical opinion about your chances of conceiving, giving you the power to make whatever decision is best for you.

So please, use all the gadgets you’d like, but don’t forget about the one resource that can help answer all your questions – in person and without any swiping, clicking or texting from a chatbot that isn’t *quite* done with medical school.