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22 January 2007
Questions Raised Over Fertility Clinic Advertising

Internet sites operated by the majority of fertility clinics do not adhere to their own association's advertising guidelines, says a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. The study also revealed that services offered at private clinics and academic clinics were similar, but private clinics were more likely to publish success rates, use comparative marketing, and offer financial incentives.

Because many consumers rely on the Internet to gather health information; "the concern is that vulnerable patients may be misled by information that does not give the whole picture," said Dr. Tarun Jain, senior author of the study from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Advertising guidelines that clinics should be adhering to require clinics to provide specific information about how in vitro fertilization outcome statistics are reported, mandate that clinics follow Federal Trade Commission guidelines, and warn against the comparison of success rates between clinics. But the researchers found that approximately half of the websites published success rates, and of those, the percentage adhering to the advertising guidelines was low in all categories evaluated.

"Despite an attempt to clarify assisted reproduction information on the Internet, there is a great deal of disparity among how clinics publish success rates on their Web sites," said Jain. "Patients need to carefully evaluate the information presented on Web sites, and they need to know what questions to ask when they meet face-to-face with a physician."

The researchers also evaluated clinic websites for advertising specific services, including donor egg program, embryo and egg cyropreservation, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, sex selection, shared-risk financing and 100 percent money-back guarantees. Private clinic Web sites were significantly more likely than academic clinics to offer financial incentives, including shared risk financing, and to use the catchphrase "100 percent Money Back Guarantee."

Jain recommends that infertility patients not rely solely on success rates published on fertility clinic websites. "Patients should meet with a prospective physician and have their questions answered in person," he said. "Success rates will vary depending on the patient's diagnosis, age and other factors, but unfortunately, many patients choose a practice based on information obtained on the Internet."

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago


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