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Fertility Treatment | Advocacy

A Fertility Clinic Team Reveals Their Best Tips for Patients

August 12th, 2022 | 12 min. read

A Fertility Clinic Team Reveals Their Best Tips for Patients
Lisa Rosenthal

Lisa Rosenthal

Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her and was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has served as Illume Fertility's dedicated Patient Advocate and Strategic Content Lead for many years and is the founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support patients through gentle movement and meditation. Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.

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Building a successful doctor-patient relationship starts with connection, interaction and, of course, conversation. After exploring how patients can advocate for themselves and become more empowered, we turned to the experts (our doctors, nurses, and other team members) to get their perspective. Keep reading to discover their tips for cultivating the best experience possible throughout your fertility journey!

In this article:

Note: This article is the final piece in a 3-part series on How to Be an Empowered & Effective Fertility Patient. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, be sure to check them out for more great advice and insights.


The Key to Good Communication

Successful conversations - the ones that increase understanding and exchange information - only happen when both participants are doing two specific actions: actively listening and thoughtfully speaking. This may seem obvious, but the key is to take turns doing each of these things. 

Actively listening and being curious about the other person’s perspective is often the harder of the two, because it means putting aside one’s own agenda or frustrations in the moment. This is especially true when there’s a power differential in the conversation.

What do I mean by “power differential?” In a conversation with a doctor or clinician, it is often assumed that the power lies primarily with the health care provider and not the patient. But as many patient advocates shared in the second article in this series, that's only one way to see it.

Remember: You as a patient are the one making the ultimate decisions about your care, and don’t forget - you’re paying for a service! Yes, the doctor/clinician is the expert when it comes to medical information, but you are the expert on your own experience, boundaries, and wishes throughout your journey.

3 Goals of the Doctor-Patient Relationship

In the end, you want three things with your health care provider: collaboration, conversation, and a good relationship.  

A relationship, like a conversation, includes all participants, by definition:

  • The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected
  • The way in which two or more people or groups regard and behave toward each other

And isn’t that what you want? A cooperative relationship with your care provider built on mutual respect? 

The best way to find out what a fertility professional thinks about what makes an empowered and effective patient is to ask them - so I did! And I was delighted to receive some fantastic answers to my questions.

I asked them what they’d want to tell a patient that will help improve the relationship with their health care providers, their experience at a fertility practice, and help build a relationship that is open and respectful on all sides. Keep reading to see what they said...


Be your own best advocate:

How to Be an Empowered & Effective Fertility Patient


What Fertility Doctors Want You to Know

Our board-certified reproductive endocrinologist team had several specific tips to share about improving the connections between doctor and patient. One thing that was true across the board was their interest in building a relationship and maintaining good communication (which is likely your goal too). 

1. Practice Mutual Respect

Dr. Mark Leondires shares what makes communication and engagement with a patient go more smoothly:

“I like when a patient has a list of questions - it shows forethought and planning. One thing I find very upsetting is when someone is unkind to anyone on our team, it is simply not acceptable. It is the same as being unkind to me. However, I do always want to know when a patient is upset so that I can help. I want patients to understand that I am dedicated to giving everyone the care and attention they deserve and need.”

2. Be Honest With Your Doctor

Dr. Spencer Richlin echoes Dr. Leondires by saying, "Patients need to be honest with me about how things are going - it’s the only way that I can help improve their experience if it’s not going well for them. Fertility treatment can be very tough and it is the entire team’s responsibility to make the process go smoothly, with as few ups and downs as possible."

3. Take Ownership When You Can

Dr. Joshua Hurwitz acknowledges how challenging it is to be a fertility patient while also reminding patients of their responsibilities in this relationship. When a patient doesn’t attend to their side of things, it can negatively impact the way that a fertility treatment cycle proceeds while also impairing the communication process.

"I try to remember that although this is what we do every day, it is always new to patients, so they need and deserve hand-holding during the process. Although treatment can feel overwhelming, especially in the beginning, when everything is so new, it is still important for patients to take ownership of what they can control: listening to their voicemails, opening their emails, reading their protocols so they can ask about what they don’t understand, following up on ordering medication as they've been instructed, and checking medicine inventories.

It is very frustrating for the team to do so much work on a patient's behalf and then hear them say, 'You never told me about this!' when it reality, they didn’t listen to their voicemails, get back to their nurse, open an attachment, or watch their assigned videos, for example.

The added benefit to taking ownership of what is in your control, is that patients feel more empowered, because there is so much out of their control during this journey.”  

Related: 10 Ways to Take Back Control On Your Fertility Journey

4. You Can Ask to Talk to Your Doctor

Dr. Shaun Williams encourages patients to talk directly to him when needed. Used appropriately, this is very helpful advice!

“I want patients to not be afraid to 'go to the top' — getting direct communication from their physician can often help, and although physician schedules are busy and we often don’t have time for a full consult in between patients or after hours, patients should feel comfortable asking to speak to their physician to answer questions that they may still have after exhausting readily available resources.”

5. Know We Work Together to Care for You

Finally, Dr. Ilana Ressler regularly reassures her patients about the personalized care they are receiving:

"There are eight doctors in our practice, but we are all one big team here to take care of you. We all help take care of each other’s patients. Even if you don’t see me face to face when you come in, I am watching your progress the whole way through! I see all of your results as they come in, including images. If you ever want to speak directly to me, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your team and ask, and I will give you a call."


Learn more valuable skills:

20 Ways to Advocate for Yourself


Partnering With Your Patient Navigator

Your patient navigator is just that, your guide throughout your time at a fertility practice. So what do they need from you to make this relationship as effective and efficient as possible?

Here's the first thing they want you to know: “We don’t get upset or annoyed about questions or need for clarification - everyone understands information in different ways,” says Chelsea Merwin, one of our patient navigators at Illume Fertility. Hoping that puts your mind at ease, here are some other tips from Chelsea and the patient navigator team that will help you have the smoothest journey possible:

  • Save your team's contact information on your phone and email to ensure you receive all communications and have our direct phone numbers handy (otherwise, emails or calls may get blocked or missed).
  • Add all Zoom links and appointment information to your calendar.
  • Thoroughly read through each email and check for any attachments – we often send important and helpful information!
  • Be patient and understand that sometimes things happen out of our control – if there’s ever a change to a health care provider's schedule, we often need to reschedule many appointments. We promise we’ll always do our best to accommodate your needs and wishes!

Remember to Update Communication Preferences

Jocelyn Crespo, who is both a fertility nurse and manager of Illume's patient navigator team, emphasizes the importance of notifying your team if you want to change the way you receive communication from them. This will help avoid interruptions or delays in important messages.

“There are times I've emailed patients, knowing that that is the way they preferred to communicate previously, and then they may suddenly change their minds and say they now prefer phone calls," Jocelyn says. Telling your team that you now prefer phone over email or vice versa will help them communicate updates and information in the best way for you.

"Another important point to keep in mind is that when we make phone calls to answer your questions, those are often done at the end of the day," she says. "So while it’s tempting to keep calling and emailing until there’s an answer, it’s not necessary or effective."

Fertility Nurses Share Their Thoughts

Fertility nurses are much more than intermediaries between you and your doctors and their responsibilities go far beyond clinical care. There’s a lot they want you to know!

Nurse Brigitte Alicea shares what’s most important to her team: “As your nurses, we are here to advocate for you and help you through this journey, whether it is a long one or a short one. Strong communication is very important, so please make sure you have your team's contact information including phone numbers, email addresses and office number. This is vital information to help with your questions, communicate about your treatment plan, and most of all, make sure you know who to turn to if you need anything."

Another thing to know? "Your nurse and patient navigator work very closely together, and they will typically both send out an introduction email at the beginning of your journey, which will contain your team’s contact information so you can always refer back to the email when you need to reach them," says Brigitte.

Christina Dias, who has decades of experience as both a fertility nurse and manager, adds her thoughts:

"For me, the biggest thing is open communication - setting expectations on both sides right from the beginning. What’s your preference about how to communicate? Let’s set expectations about call backs and results and ensure you know which member of your Care Team is responsible for which piece of the process.”


Watch this video to learn more about your nurse's role:

ASK


More Tips From a Fertility Nurse

  • Keep an eye on your phone and try to always pick up if you are expecting a call back.
  • If you've requested email communication, look out for an email (but don’t expect both a call and email, and/or an additional call to your partner).
  • Take accountability - we can provide resources, but always communicate to us if instructions are unclear.
  • Never assume, always confirm (and yes, it’s okay to ask more than once).
  • We don’t work seven days a week, so while your team may respond on a weekend, that should be considered an exception, not an expectation. We always have 24 hour coverage for urgent and emergency situations.
  • You can always email us over the weekend, but please don't expect a response until Monday.
  • We prefer receiving a list of questions, rather than multiple emails throughout the day. One email is always more effective and helps our team get you all the answers you need in an organized fashion!

Improving Your Patient Experience

Illume Fertility's newly formed Patient Experience Team specifically focuses on improving the patient journey. Patient Experience Manager Angie Rojas emphasizes the value of building a relationship with your Care Team from the first point of contact, which requires dedication from both the fertility practice AND the patient.

Keep in mind: Fertility practices have many complex issues going on at all times (think scheduling, protocols, surgeries, blood draws, and monitoring, to name a few) with frequent changes because of our constant focus on individualized health care for each patient.

More Tips From a Patient Experience Manager:

  • Recognize that your team will do their best to accommodate essential aspects of your schedule. (For example: if you’re a teacher, we won't call before 3:30pm.)
  • A friendly nudge to your team after 24 hours without a response is appropriate.
  • Similarly, follow up with whomever is covering for your team member if they are out.
  • Review and confirm that you have your medications and watch the mixing videos prior to starting your cycle.
  • Let us know if you'd like a quick overview or a more detailed explanation when you are unsure about the logistics of an upcoming appointment or procedure. Sometimes it’s a quick question and sometimes we need more time. When we understand that, we can schedule you more appropriately.  

Most importantly, Angie says, "Remember that we are all human beings, and that a little kindness goes a long way. Fertility treatment and infertility are very challenging, and frustration, anger and sadness are often part of the process. Speaking kindly to your team may feel impossible sometimes, and we understand when you can’t, but want you to know how much we appreciate it when you can!"


Get to know our practice:

Illume Fertility 101


What You Probably Don’t Know About HIPAA

You've probably heard of HIPAA (short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and have some idea of how it protects you. But here's what you may not know: every single person at our practice is trained yearly on HIPAA regulations, which means your team understands that you can’t waive your HIPAA rights to have information sent to you in unsecured ways.

Every person in a medical office is bound by HIPAA regulations, so even though using secured email can sometimes be a little cumbersome, know that when you ask us to send something in an unsecured way, it’s not possible for us to legally do so. We all want to keep your private health information safe and secure! 

Remember: Communication Goes Both Ways

With all that great advice in mind, here's the short and sweet summary: We want to get to know you, we want to hear what you need, and we want to hear how the experience is going for you. We want a relationship where all participants are open and engaged. Without your irreplaceable input, we don’t know how you're feeling and can’t fix things or support you in the ways you deserve.   

So use your voice! Tell us how you're really doing throughout your fertility journey. And thank you, for knowing that part of this conversation is listening too. We're all here to help you reach your goals and find success!

Note: This article is the final piece in a 3-part series on How to Be an Empowered & Effective Fertility Patient. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, be sure to check them out for more great advice and insights.

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