We have talked to dr. Maria Arqué, a physician specialised in Obstetrics and Gynecology and International Medical Director at Fertty International, Barcelona, Spain. Dr. Arqué has a doctorate in Medicine (Ph.D.) from the University Autònoma de Barcelona on Reproductive Medicine conducting a pilot study on the influence of diet and lifestyle on the results of IVF ICSI.
Dr. Maria is also a lecturer at the Master of Human Reproductive Medicine (Fertty, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), member of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embriology (ESHRE) and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).
She is interested in fertility preservation, the impact of nutrition and lifestyle on fertility, research and education. Dr. Maria’s everyday work is putting these words into action:
All patients inspire me. Each of the patients I meet every day has a different background and a different approach towards their infertility diagnosis. I learn from all of them every day and I’m grateful for it. The biggest lesson I have learned from my patients is that resilience and perseverance are key if you want to succeed.
We asked dr. Maria some questions about the clinic, treatment options and IVF laws in Spain and we discussed patient experience at Fertty. If you want to find out what to expect if you travel for fertility treatment to Barcelona, read on.
Your clinic has been operating since 2018. Can you tell us more about the experience of your doctors and embryologists?
The clinic has been operating since 2018, but all the team has wide experience working with fertility patients. Most of us have worked in very big clinics for more than 15 years, with a very high number of patients and cycles. We have realized that one of the main factors that can make the difference in a patient’s experience during the fertility treatment is to have a more individualised and tailored treatment. That’s the main reason why we created Fertty International, to offer state of the art assisted reproductive treatments while making the fertility journey as human and personalized as possible.
What clinic and IVF lab facilities do you have?
We have our own laboratory facilities onsite where we use Witness system, which is the most secure technology to increase quality in the lab reducing all possible risks during the processing and managing of samples and also establishing a very secure and traceable system for all consumables used during the treatment. We offer full transparency with all procedures done. There is a camera in our transfer room which is connected to the lab, and the patients can see the quality of the embryos to be transferred as well as how the embryos are charged in the catheter for the transfer. We perform all fertility treatments that are allowed in Spain, except surrogacy and gender selection. We use the Fertile chip, in cases of a male factor due to high sperm DNA fragmentation.
Is Fertty International certified or accredited by a Spanish or international body? If yes, what does this accreditation cover?
We have the ISO 9001-2015 accreditation. Our lab is periodically audited and assessed by Embryotools.
Does your clinic specialize in a certain area like failed cycles or male factor?
We have wide experience in most of the fertility fields. My main areas of interest are how lifestyle and diet impact fertility (which was the topic of my PhD), fertility preservation and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss.
Our multidisciplinary team includes andrologists, geneticists, psychologists, and immunologists, to assess each case and define which is the best treatment to maximize success rates.
An increasing number of clinics start to offer so-called „refund guarantee programs” that guarantee money back in case no pregnancy or live birth is achieved. Do you think there is a growing demand for such programs from patients?
The demand for Refund Guarantee Programs is increasing. These programs are a good option for patients who have already done several fertility treatments without success and who are worried about the financial burden that continuing to do fertility treatments without a guarantee of success might represent. The initial cost of those programs is indeed higher than doing one cycle, but it gives patients the peace of mind that, if unfortunately, the treatment is not successful, their investment will be refunded.
You offer an egg donation program that guarantees 4 donor eggs to a patient. Because of the minimal number of oocytes offered the program has an attractive price. What is the effectiveness and success rates in such a program? Do patients often choose this option?
In most of the cases in which we use 4 eggs from the donor, we will get at least one blastocyst. Our pregnancy rate per embryo transfer with donor eggs is around 60%. Most of our patients choose to use the option of 8 eggs, with which we can guarantee 2 blastocysts.
The option of 4 eggs is usually used by patients who might undergo the fertility treatment solo, who want to have only one child and who prefer that option instead of embryo adoption.
Where do your foreign patients come from? What countries?
As we are focused, particularly, on international patients care, we receive patients from all over the world. Most of our patients come from Europe. We have a growing number of patients coming from North America, the Middle East and Africa.
Do you see a difference in patients’ preferences and expectations in terms of the clinic’s offer and customer service depending on which country they are from?
Culture plays a significant role in the expectations and needs that patients have. That’s the main reason why we have an international and multidisciplinary team, to try to fulfil patients requirements before, during and after the treatment.
Are patients treated and looked after by the same doctor and the same coordinator throughout the treatment?
Yes, indeed. At Fertty International we are very conscious that a fertility journey can be challenging, and it is difficult to have to explain your case and see different people every time you go to the clinic. That’s the main reason why you will have a doctor who will take care of your case, and also a medical and patient assistant to help you navigate with all the process and make the treatment as simple and smooth as possible.
How can patients access their treatment results? Via e-mail, online?
Patients will discuss the test results with their doctor. They can access their results via e-mail at the moment.
Are you able to work with the patient’s doctor in their home country to minimize their stay in Barcelona?
Yes, indeed. We try to minimise as much as possible the length of patient’s stay in Barcelona unless they want to take a holiday and enjoy the culture, nature and weather that Barcelona can offer. For this reason, we collaborate with clinics and doctors all over the world. We can recommend the patient a referral centre or professional at their origin where necessary studies for the start of treatment and controls can be performed. All this information is shared directly between the centres through highly secure channels.
Can you tell us about the most challenging patient case you’ve had that ended in successful birth? What made a difference in that case?
We recently had a couple that had a very long infertility history with adenomyosis, endometriosis and recurrent pregnancy loss, even with egg donation. They had done several assisted reproductive treatments in different countries without success. We have worked extensively with our multidisciplinary team, including an immunologist, and finally, they are expecting a baby!
There are a lot of different challenges when you treat patients with infertility. I especially admire and get inspired by patients who have survived cancer or are about to start treatment to fight it. There is another patient case that I remember very well. That was a lovely couple who had a child that died due to cancer at the age of 7. We have done a fertility treatment, and they just had a baby. It is priceless to be part of something as important and special as helping people to have children.
What complementary support do you offer? Nutrition, fertility coach, acupuncture?
We work with experts in psychology, fertility coaching, nutrition, acupuncture, reflexology, among others. These professionals contribute to making the process easier and provide the emotional and physical support required. Some of them can attend online.
What do you think of the potential change in the IVF legislation and donor anonymity in Spain? Do you think it may affect the number of patients visiting Spain or the number of new egg donors?
It is difficult to know how this is going to evolve. If egg donation is no longer anonymous in Spain, it will change the situation. On the one hand, you can expect a decrease in the number of egg donor candidates, as most of them are willing to help other people to become parents, but they don’t want their identity to be disclosed. And if that happens, the prices for treatment could raise. But on the other hand, it is uncertain if this will not happen. Society is evolving, and new generations are not concerned about disclosure.