When you’re struggling to conceive, every second that passes feels precious. So it’s easy to get discouraged: 65% of those who seek fertility care end up discontinuing treatment, the majority due to stress. That’s why Penn Medicine recently implemented a telemedicine-focused program aimed at seeing patients faster and starting treatments earlier. According to a study published in NEJM Catalyst by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
In addition to reducing the average time it takes for new patients to get their first treatment (from 97 to 41 days), the program also enabled more new patients to access fertility care, increasing the number by 24% year of its implementation. as the standard of care at Penn Medicine. At a time when one in eight couples in the United States suffer from infertility, Fast Track to Fertility has enabled more than 1,000 new patients to start treatments to help them become pregnant.
Most people who seek fertility care have been trying to get pregnant for at least a year, so the emotional stakes are high and they really want to get started as soon as possible. Our results show that this program can significantly speed up processing time and in doing so, opens the door to more people. These results show that this way of doing things can make real differences in people’s lives.”
Anuja Dokras, MD, PhD, Study Lead Author and Co-Founder of Fast Track to Fertility, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Chair of Gynecology for Women’s Health Services Line
The demand for fertility care has steadily increased since its introduction, reaching a point where fertility clinics often have long waits for new patients. Fast Track to Fertility, launched by Penn Medicine’s Center for Health Care Innovation’s Innovation Accelerator, seeks to speed things up by deploying a relatively small team of advanced practice providers for effective telemedicine-based initial visits with new patients as soon as possible. This visit also gives patients the chance to sign up for an AI-guided text messaging program that helps guide them through the complex fertility “checkup” quickly and with as few hiccups as possible.
“This system has ensured that as soon as a patient contacts us, their journey begins,” said study lead author and Fast Track to Fertility co-founder Suneeta Senapati, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “Both partners in a couple need to have a checkup, which can include blood tests, ultrasounds, x-rays, semen analysis, etc. Some parts of this depend on the menstrual cycle, making it a process time-sensitive, so making quick work as easy as possible – with minimal confusion – is invaluable.”
The initial pilots (which used human texting instead of artificial intelligence to test the system) reduced the wait time for new patient visits by 88% from the first contact with the practice, making the time average wait is only four days. And no patients during those early pilots had to call the office to determine next steps, compared to a quarter of patients who weren’t in the program.
In 2021, when the last scan was performed, Fast Track to Fertility was expanded to become the standard of care in Penn Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In addition to halving treatment time and increasing the number of new patients, they also saw appointment “no-shows” -; which includes those who miss their appointments unexpectedly or who have to cancel late -; drop from 40 to 20%. , a particularly important measure.
“Any time there is a no-show, we cannot fill that appointment due to the specific timing that goes into this type of care,” Dokras said. “So every time we can reduce absences, it means more people can get the care they seek to build their families.”
Satisfaction, both from patients and from the advanced practice providers who run the system, was also found to be high. And the researchers hope the system can be expanded to support patients through their fertility journey.
“These models of care do not replace our clinical staff, as human interaction remains imperative to the doctor-patient relationship and the delivery of care. Rather, they improve efficiency – while maintaining personalized care – for patients. and their care teams to adapt to the growing demands for fertility services,” Senapati said. “Ultimately, it allows my colleagues and I to do more of what we have in this area to: help people get pregnant and bring their babies home.”