New Bern, NC – INTRO - ECU Women's Physicians was recently acknowledged as one of the nation's most successful programs for women seeking successful pregnancies via in vitro fertilization. George Olsen has more.
The Society for Assistive Reproductive Technology recently released figures that rank ECU Women's Physicians with the fourth highest percentage for successful pregnancies achieved through in vitro fertilization in 2008. ECU had nearly 69% of embryo transfers result in live births for women age 35-and-younger compared to a national rate of just over 47%. Dr. Cal Hayslip, division director for reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU, says he knew they were having a good year at the time though he never quite realized how good.
"Everybody has their own technique and I guess when a physician calls you and says you have really good rates and I'd like to learn from you and get some pointers, they're often very willing to share that. I looked at trying to do the best I could that I was doing everything I could to improve patients chances, so I think that's really what happened in 06, 07, 08 and finally in 2008 we didn't know we were going to be quite this competitive nationwide but it certainly turned out to be a banner year for ECU."
All those phone calls going out paid off and with the increased success rates Dr. Hayslip says they're starting to receive phone calls coming in from prospective patients outside their usual east of I-95 patient base. The markedly-above-the-national-average numbers getting people's attention are perhaps even more remarkable given the rural eastern North Carolina health climate.
"Certainly as we know from our obstetric data, eastern N-C has a very high prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and these are conditions that in general would increase the likelihood of infertility and these are also conditions that make infertility treatments less effective."
Dr. Hayslip says he doesn't have figures of how many patients ECU Women's Physicians worked with in 2008 had any of the illnesses or obesity that are prevalent in eastern North Carolina but said those afflictions were "certainly well represented." He also adds they don't want to be a practice that focuses only on fertility and then just passes along the pregnancy complications resulting from pre-existing conditions to the next doctor down the line.
"There's a test called hemoglobin A1C that many diabetics get drawn every six months to see what their glucose control is. If that test is above 7 then that means they are at higher risk of having a baby with a birth defect and the higher the test goes, if its 8 or 9, then the higher the percentage they'll have a baby with a major birth defect, so one of the first things we do is make sure they understand that these conditions have to be under control to even consider getting pregnant much less going through IVF."
Likewise, if a patient has a body mass index of over 40, she'll have to get below that figure before they'll perform IVF. The health and suitability for IVF of individuals is one part of ECU's recent success. Lab work is another.
"Pregnancy rates are ultimately a measure of how well you're doing in the lab but also in the lab we can see when we do in vitro we can see what percentage of the fertilized eggs are dividing and becoming 8-cell embryos which is usually the stage of the embryos when we put them back in the uterus."
Still, Dr. Hayslip says techniques for in vitro fertilization are relatively standard across the nation. He compares it to surgery one doctor might do his sutures different than the next doctor but the end result is the same. Still, if a tweak here and a tweak there makes a difference or, to mix governmental and cooking terminologies
"We have a lot of checks and balances to see if we have the right herbs & spices and if its not broke, don't fix it so right now we're just trying to keep it where its been."
Dr. Cal Hayslip is the division director for reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. I'm George Olsen.