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An important but inconvenient truth is that not all experts are created equal.

They’re all professionals. They’re all qualified to play. They all have knowledge and subject-matter expertise. Still, some are better than others.

The field of embryology is no different. Embryologists go through rigorous training. The field has high performance standards that embryologists must pass before they’re allowed to practice, and they are continually evaluated through proficiency and competence tests. That process screens out unqualified candidates, so bad embryologists aren’t unleashed on an unknowing public.

Nonetheless, when it comes to qualified embryologists, some are excellent–most often made that way through years of experience–whereas others are simply good.

When experienced embryologists train new ones, they pass on their techniques for performing manual manipulations. Much of the IVF laboratory procedure depends on manual techniques, so many of the procedures carry with them a technical signature, unique to whomever is performing the task, which has an impact on the procedure’s outcomes. Training and experience can influence and improve an embryologist’s ability, but a lack of standardized training procedures causes a lack of uniformity both between and within labs.

Automating IVF can help optimize outcomes for patients by removing those technical signatures. Automation can replace many of the manual components of IVF, so the procedure’s complicated steps will yield uniform and predictable outcomes from laboratory to laboratory.

With the assistance of this type of automation, embryologist trainees acquire competence more quickly, reducing the amount of training time needed to obtain the level of expertise required for the procedure. At the same time, it provides accomplished embryologists with the ability to produce uniformly excellent technical execution across a variety of cases.

It can also improve the performance of embryologists with initially poorer performance records, thereby improving outcomes and promoting uniformity from lab to lab and embryologist to embryologist.

Democratizing IVF via Automation and Standardization

Demand for IVF continues to rise throughout Canada, the U.S., Australia, Europe, and Asia. However, many developing nations are also beginning to experience a surge in the demand, especially as women’s education and workforce participation increases.

Access to IVF in these countries is currently constrained by, among other things, capacity. The demand for services exceeds the number of clinics and embryologists available to provide them. Because the current process for embryologist training is time consuming and often relies on already established clinics for delivering the education, these countries are at a disadvantage when it comes to combating the embryologist shortage.

By reducing the time required to train embryologists and perform IVF procedures, automation can help democratize access to IVF.

Less training time means that more embryologists can enter the field more quickly. Decreasing the amount of manual manipulation required to perform IVF procedures means that newer embryologists can perform procedures once reserved for those with years of expertise, and reduced procedural time means that embryologists can treat more patients in the same amount of time, providing a much needed economic benefit too. Combined, these improvements in efficiency and cost can increase access to fertility services for underserved regions and populations.

Moreover, by helping embryologists perform to a uniform standard that results in consistently high-quality outcomes for patients, automation can help guarantee that all patients have access to the same quality of treatment, regardless of where they live. Technology that automates IVF can optimize outcomes for all patients, ensuring that as underserved populations gain access to fertility treatment, that treatment will be of the highest quality. Because with automation, every lab should be able to produce the same quality of outcomes from laboratory procedures.

Dr. Rusty Pool

Scientific Director at the Fertility Center of San Antonio