A TripAdvisor for Fertility Clinics - Would You Recommend It?

Progress Educational Trust
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 27 Sussex Place, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RG
29 April 2015
This public event was organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and was sponsored by the British Fertility Society.
A podcast of the debate, produced by Pod Academy, can be listened to using the player below or alternatively can be downloaded by clicking here (.mp3 16.2MB).
Dr Nicoletta Charolidi has written a summary of this event for PET's flagship publication BioNews. The event was also the subject of a report in the British Medical Journal.
The UK's fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), publishes details of clinic success rates online for the benefit of patients. The 'Choose a Fertility Clinic' section of the HFEA's website is widely used by patients, and is monitored by fertility clinics to compare their own results with those of other clinics. The HFEA is now considering going further, saying 'we believe we could do more to collect and publish patient feedback about their experience of a particular clinic and we know that there is general support for this amongst both patients and professionals'.
The HFEA is currently examining various proposals for publishing patient feedback, which have drawn comparisons with TripAdvisor - the popular travel website which pioneered the use of customer reviews. Options being considered include asking patients to rate a clinic's service on a scale of 1-5, and asking 'would you recommend this service to friends and family?' (a question now used to assess patient experience throughout the NHS). Consideration has been given to soliciting free text feedback, but clinics have expressed concern and a compromise has now been proposed, whereby 'patients... select from a list of statements provided by the HFEA' and the results of this feedback are then represented as a 'word cloud'.
These plans are consistent with an emphasis on patient choice and patient empowerment in recent health policy. Since 2007, for example, the NHS Choices website has published patient feedback on NHS hospitals and services, in the form of both star ratings and free text. Last year the National Information Board, of which the HFEA is a member, issued proposals which take this approach further.
However, such an approach is contentious. TripAdvisor has attracted controversy, with critics questioning its ability to vouch for the honesty and reliability of customer reviews. And since more than half of all fertility treatment in the UK is carried out in the private sector, people writing and reading feedback may be customers as well as patients. The burden of verifying and standardising feedback could be prohibitively high, if this feedback is to be published by a statutory regulator. This event saw experts with different perspectives debate the pros and cons of a TripAdvisor approach to fertility clinics.

Antonia Foster
Senior Associate at Carter-Ruck
Dr Yacoub Khalaf
Member of the the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and Director and Person Responsible of Guy's Hospital's Assisted Conception Unit
Susan Seenan
Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK, and Co-Chair of Fertility Fairness
Juliet Tizzard
Director of Strategy and Corporate Affairs at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

Professor Adam Balen
Chair of the British Fertility Society, and Consultant in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at the Leeds Centre for Reproductive Medicine

  Partners and supporters:
  British Fertility Society