Tygerberg Hospital offers cheaper IVF treatment

For couples battling to conceive, In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is a possible solution to the problem. However, this process can be costly, and is not a guaranteed solution as often many couples have to undergo several cycles of treatment before falling pregnant. Moneybags journalist, Jessica Wood, finds out more about IVF, and where you can cut costs. She finds that some Cape Town specialists are willing to charge far less than what some of the private clinics would charge.

With the costs of doctors, plus all the specialist appointments, and treatments, IVF is not cheap. Especially when some couples have to undergo the treatment more than once.

However, there is now a new, more cost-friendly IVF treatment option on offer. In order to assist patients who cannot afford treatment at private or semi-government facilities, Dr Thabo Matsaseng the head of the Reproductive and Medicine Unit at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, has reworked the existing business model to develop an IVF treatment that is more affordable.

Dr Sulaiman Heylen, specialist in reproductive medicine at the Cape Fertility Clinic explains that the cost of IVF treatment differs depending on where you go and what treatment you receive, as there are various fertility treatment options. The best option for you will be reached through consultation with your fertility doctor. “Fertility treatment can cost from R30 000 minimum up to R60 000. At the Cape Fertility Clinic it can cost between R35 000 and R40 000.”*

Matsaseng revealed on Cape Talk radio station [to listen to the interview click here] that the staff at Tygerberg hospital has been able to reduce the cost to between R6 000 and R7 000. This is a massive saving for those wanting to go the IVF route. The Tygerberg Hospital fertility unit has been offering this more affordable IVF treatment for the past four years.

He told the station: “The whole notion of IVF that we offer at Tygerberg is not a new thing, it has been done before, we are trying to bring back the old model, but refined. What society needs to understand is that it is not a cheap service, but it comes with reasons why it is so expensive.”

Matsaseng explains that the costs involved can be narrowed down to a few main causes, such as staffing, medication, facilities, anaesthesia, and theatre time.

Heylen notes that the type of medication that a patient takes will depend on the case, but these medications can cost R10 000, while lab fees are about R12 000, procedure room fees come to approximately R3 700, and the cost of the anaesthetist at about R1 500.* These prices will be dependent on where you receive the treatment.

Referrals

Once it has been determined that a couple is in need of fertility treatment to assist them in falling pregnant they will be referred to a fertility centre, such as the Tygerberg Hospital fertility clinic, by their gynaecologist, GP or their local clinic.

According to reports, IVF is the last step for a couple battling to conceive. This course of action is only taken when other treatments and procedures, such as fertility drugs, artificial insemination and surgery, have not worked.

The staff

IVF treatment is expensive because it is essential to get a number of specialists involved in the process.

Matsaseng said on Cape Talk that there are the doctors that perform the IVF, as well as the nurses that assist with the procedure, but there are also the embryologists and scientists who look after the embryo once it has been cultured, and the receptionist who welcomes the patients and coordinates appointments.

“At Tygerberg Hospital their salaries are paid by the government and they have no rental fees, so they save on those costs. They also use a lower dose of the medication, so less fertility drugs are needed. They make use of mild stimulation,” said Heylen.

In order to reduce the staffing costs, the team at Tygerberg hospital took on more responsibilities for themselves, reducing the number of people needed. For example, instead of using an IVF coordinator to communicate with patients about appointment bookings and confirmation, the staff use SMSs to reduce administrative costs.

“The hospital is providing the infrastructure. There is also a clinic in Pinelands, which is a private clinic, and they have contributed a lot towards making this treatment more affordable for the patients at Tygerberg,” says Matsaseng.

The team have established a partnership with the Aevitas Clinic in Pinelands http://www.aevitas.co.za/, which has assisted in reducing the cost of consumables and certain laboratory services.

As the staff is already employed by other facilities, Matsaseng notes that there is not the added cost to the patients of having to cover the staff salaries.

“I am employed by the university, and then we have the embryologists, the scientists and the nurses who are employed by the provincial government. Therefore patients are not responsible for covering staffing costs,” explains Matsaseng.

The medication

Another major contributor to the cost of IVF treatment is the medication that is used in order to carry out the procedures.

“In private clinics it will cost you in the region of R15 000 and R20 000 just for the medication. Our drugs will cost anything between R2 500 and R3 000,” reveals Matsaseng.

Another reason that the medication costs are so much less is because at Tygerberg Hospital, the fertility unit uses less hormone treatment than private clinics.

Matsaseng explains that this is because private clinics aim to harvest more eggs during the harvesting procedure, between 20 and 50 eggs per cycle of treatment, whereas at Tygerberg they aim for between three and seven eggs.

As they harvest fewer eggs, Matsaseng highlights that there is no need to have patients on such high levels of hormones, as the high levels are used to increase the number of eggs that can be harvested at one time.

“We probably use a third or a half of the medication that is used in the private sector, because we are not aiming for 20 eggs or 50 eggs in a cycle, we want a maximum of seven eggs per cycle.”

The procedure

In a private fertility clinic the cost of the anaesthetist and theatre time add to the overall cost of the IVF treatment.

Matsaseng says that at Tygerberg Hospital they use a local anaesthetic and conscious sedation when harvesting the eggs instead of the more common practice of a general anaesthetic.

“In our lab we don’t put the people to sleep, but we looked at models of making them comfortable when we retrieve the eggs. It might not be comfortable for everyone, but we do go through extensive counselling and explain to everyone how the procedure works,” says Matsaseng.

For couples looking to fall pregnant, IVF is a good option. But you do not have to pay thousands upon thousands of Rands anymore.

According to Heylen, government hospitals, such as Groote Schuur Hospital, offer fertility treatment at a cheaper price than private clinics as part of the cost is subsidised, however, it is not as cheap as the treatment offered by the fertility clinic at Tygerberg Hospital.

For more information on the treatment offered at Tygerberg Hospital contact the fertility unit on 021 938 4437.

For more information on the different types of fertility treatment options available visit the Cape Fertility Clinic website.

*Prices accurate on date of publication 22 January 2015.

 

For alternative pregnant treatments that can help couples struggling to fall pregnant, click here.