February 9, 2022

Smart Collaboration with The Fertility Partners: Raising Fertility Care Through Best Practices

By Dr. Andrew Meikle,

Founder and Executive Chairman of The Fertility Partners

The Fertility Partners (TFP) is a growing network of fertility clinics across Canada and the U.S. Our goal is to be the business partner of choice for leading reproductive medicine and prenatal practitioners, empowering them to achieve and deliver unparalleled patient experiences, patient outcomes, and operational excellence. Through network investment and innovation, we strengthen the capabilities of our partners and are advancing the field.

Potential TFP partners often wonder what this means for their patients, clinicians, and operations. They are concerned that joining a network will mean relinquishing some autonomy over their operations – but with TFP, nothing could be further from the truth. 

TFP knows that each patient’s case is unique in reproductive medicine, and the clinic’s success results from its existing culture and leadership. As such, TFP is structured to preserve the autonomy and culture of our member clinics, so that their clinicians can deliver the best care and outcomes for their patients. 

TFP achieves this balance by making support resources –from patient experience, and shared clinic and lab Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), to recruiting, marketing, and supply chains—available to our members without mandating adoption. A key part of our early discussions with prospective partners is to understand their culture and needs, ensuring shared values focused on patient outcomes, advancing fertility care, and evaluating which of our resources can best support them. Each clinic can utilize these resources as it sees fit to achieve its individual goals and best serve its patients. TFP’s network is defined by a culture of smart collaboration with like-minded members to benefit clinicians and patients.

Here, I take a closer look at some of the unique scientific and support resources TFP provides its members, and additional ways TFP fosters a culture of collaboration and communications across its network of clinics.

The best science, research, and tools for reproductive care

When it comes to the science, technology, and treatment paradigms of reproductive medicine, our partners are driving many of the latest advances to extend the potential of what can be done to support patient needs. Examples of this include the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for egg grading, piloting automated egg vitrification, and adopting new clinical protocols and medications to optimize success. TFP member discovery, contribution, and adoption of advancements like these has set our partners apart from fertility practices that don’t have the depth of access, time, or resources to remain ahead of the rapidly evolving science. 

At TFP we recognize the potential that comes from having a network of innovators inspiring each other. Many clinical reproductive endocrinologists (REIs) are interested in conducting research but need more time or resources to realize their innovative pursuits. To transition our members' insights and research ideas into the clinic, TFP has assembled an R&D committee with an integrated team of clinicians, Ph.D. scientists, statisticians, and other specialists. Initiated by partner, Clinique Ovo, the TFP R&D team supports member clinicians with all stages of the research process, including helping to facilitate study design, ethics proposals and study approvals, recruitment, data collection and analysis, and manuscript preparation. This enables the progression of insights and innovations from real-world clinical practice to have the greatest potential to improve patient care. Importantly, TFP funds those studies. 

Additionally, our network gives clinicians the opportunity to participate in multi-center research studies that are the hallmark of excellence in this field. Many of these multi-center studies are initiated by external strategic partners, such as pharmaceutical and medical device companies, that have chosen the TFP R&D committee to simplify the process and ensure an effective study completion. Our commitment to advancing the field is reflected in the continuous stream of invited presentations received by our TFP clinicians and peer-reviewed publications of their high-quality research.

On a more practical level, we help members address shortages and supply chain problems by working to find solutions that can benefit our entire network. For example, in 2022, clinicians at one member clinics encountered a shortage of a needle they used for egg retrieval. TFP’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Al Yuzpe, sourced a comparable needle, confirmed it met the clinic’s needs as a replacement, and then procured samples for all our member clinics.

Similarly, two manufacturers of injectable formulations of GnRH antagonists experienced supply issues. To address this problem, TFP held a network-wide “town hall”, where we collaboratively reached a potential solution. A third company manufactures an oral GnRH antagonist that is not approved for use in IVF in Canada. TFP is now conducting a prospective clinical study to determine whether the oral formulation works comparably to injectable formulations and is safe for use. Results are expected in early 2023.

This TFP practice of finding cooperative solutions to industry challenges enables our partners to mitigate issues that could bring practices to a stand-still and keeps our partners ahead of the emerging challenges and needs.

With innovation at the center of clinical progression, TFP takes a proactive approach with tools like our proprietary predictive software tool that visually depicts the chance of achieving a live birth for an individual patient’s entire IVF process. This tool functions as a counseling aid that better prepares patients, mentally and emotionally, for their journey and helps them focus on the bigger-picture goals beyond the results of one cycle. By treating the whole patient, physically and mentally, with advanced counseling and individualized quantitative assessments, we aim to increase understanding of the journey and prepare patients for the reality that successful treatment requires more than one cycle of treatment for many people. 

A culture of collaboration across the TFP network

In addition to offering resources, tools, and expertise to our member clinics, TFP fosters communications and a sense of community among our clinicians through our Virtual Case Rounds and our Journal Club. Distinguished guest lectures are also a part of this program.

Based on the shared values and collaboration at TFP, case rounds which are typically conducted within an individual clinic, are hosted monthly across the entire network providing physicians and embryologists invaluable feedback, insights and support to continuously improve their care. These closed sessions allow network clinicians to evaluate each other’s tough cases to identify potential approaches and discuss and address emerging issues facing multiple patients.

Similarly, the TFP Journal Club helps clinicians keep abreast of the latest advancements and information in fertility medicine. Each of the club’s themed, quarterly sessions highlights the expertise of several of our network clinicians, and occasional leading guest speakers, on a selected topic. The presentations are highly informative and drive valuable sidebar chats among our clinicians to explore the implications of new research and discovery. Importantly, there are no egos at the table. In the collegial atmosphere of Journal Club, TFP clinicians focus on support, and encourage each other to continuously drive for what’s next in fertility care. 

In addition to assisting in keeping our physicians’ knowledge current, this program fulfills a second purpose: it is approved for accreditation for Maintenance of Competence (MOCOMP) credits which are requirements for physicians by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

Embryologist and andrologist training

There is currently a very significant shortage of trained embryologists in Canada. Those entering the field in Canada currently are trained through apprenticeship, usually by the clinic where they will be employed. These highly specialized individuals lie at the heart of our IVF clinics and are often the determinant of success or failure of treatment, even though they are out of sight and thus, often out of mind. Waiting lists are also increased markedly when clinics are understaffed with appropriate laboratory personnel. TFP recognizes this shortage of such individuals and the fact that there is no formal training ground for this profession of human embryology other than a small Master’s Program at the University of Toronto. To meet this need head-on, TFP is proud to announce that it is prepared to launch its training program for andrologists and embryologists within the TFP network.  Under the mentorship of Dr. Salah Abdelgadir and Dr. Simon Phillips, each of whom has more than 20 years of experience in the field as well as possessing other qualifications, candidates will be trained in the embryology laboratories at the Olive Fertility Centre (Vancouver, BC) and Clinique Ovo (Montreal, QC). 

Medical ethics

Issues often arise in the delivery of fertility care that raise ethical issues. Some clinics have established access to ethics committees, whereas others do not. TFP has established a formal Medical Ethics Committee, under the leadership of Dr. Shawn Winsor, one of Canada’s preeminent bioethicists. All clinics have representation on the committee, and members represent all employment roles in their respective clinics. A reproductive lawyer and a patient advocate are also members. The clinic involved is not obligated to follow the committee’s conclusion or recommendations, but it certainly makes the clinic’s decision on how to address the issue easier and provides them with support.

TFP believes that a rising tide lifts all boats. Through our culture of smart collaboration among our members, TFP is the tide that will lift reproductive care for patients everywhere.