Coronavirus disrupts fertility care, IVF treatments

Clinics reopen with COVID-19 testing for patients and other new safety measures

Caucasian woman in a mask talks to a caucasian fertility doctor in a mask as they sit in an exam room.

The novel coronavrius, COVID-19, put a lot of strain on medical care, forcing leaders to issue guidelines on essential versus non-essential care. During the heightened period of restrictions, the Sanford Health Fertility and Reproductive Medicine clinic felt the impact.

“I think the pandemic has been really hard,” says Keith Hansen, M.D., who specializes in reproductive endocrinology. “It has affected people in multiple different ways.”

After a period of closing for safety, Dr. Hansen and the Fertility and Reproductive clinic team are taking a careful, phased approach to providing care again.

Shutting down was ‘incredibly difficult’

The clinic followed guidelines closely from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure staff and patients are safe.

“What they recommended is that we shut down all of our procedures so that we shut down in vitro fertilization (IVF), transfers, insemination, we basically shut everything down so we can learn more about how it was safe to proceed and how it was safe for our patients and, hopefully, their babies,” Dr. Hansen tells Sanford Health News.

The Fertility and Reproductive clinic needed to cease care between mid-March and the first week of May. Those directives aren’t always easy to digest for families looking to conceive or those who were in the middle of their fertility treatments.

“Similar to surgery, you can’t just stop in the middle. You need to finish.”

Dr. Hansen said they have been understanding thus far.

“This has been incredibly difficult for our patients. We don’t want to put them in harm’s way. Because we’re trying to help them conceive, we don’t want to put hem or their babies in harm’s way.”

Safety a priority for mom and baby

A lot of concern early on involved waiting to learn more about how the virus impacts pregnant women, reducing any exposure amid a surge of patients and conserving personal protective equipment for direct COVID-19 caregivers.

Researchers are still learning more about the effect the virus has on pregnancy and the effect pregnancy has on the virus. What Dr. Hansen does know is about more common viral infections and pregnancy.

“If a pregnant women gets Influenza, she could get really, really sick. If you get really sick, it could increase the risk of miscarriage, stillborn, preterm labor and delivery. We want to figure out a way to reduce the risk of a person getting the virus and help them have a successful pregnancy.”

Dr. Hansen said much of the most current information is still open to interpretation.

Everything else has been a waiting game to preserve the public’s health.

“A lot of it was trying to figure out how can we safely start up our practice and do the procedures that we do and help our patients to be able to have a healthy baby and a healthy mom at the end of it.”

Slowly reopening for care

The phased approach will allow patients and couples with time-sensitive needs to seek care, for example, diminished ovarian reserve.

“Those are the ones we’re slowly starting to integrate back into practice, safely, so we minimize any risk to the virus,” Dr. Hansen explained.

Patients can expect small changes to ensure safety while they visit the clinic.

“What we’re trying to do is space out our ultrasounds and blood tests so they’re more further apart so hopefully we have fewer people in the waiting room and few people exposing each other,” Dr. Hansen explained.

The waiting room is set up to keep people at least six feet apart. The nursing staff also takes part in thorough cleaning routines throughout the day.

Additionally, all patients and visitors undergo a screening as they enter the hospital building.

Patients undergoing IVF are tested first

With the complexity and expense of IVF treatments, the clinic is ensuring patients can continue the process.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure we can deliver that in a safe, effective manner and reduce the chances someone would have to cancel their cycle.”

Patients are tested for COVID-19 when they begin their treatments. Pending a negative result, they will begin their treatment which can take anywhere from 8-14 days, Dr. Hansen said. Patients are then tested again within 72 hours of the egg retrieval before they undergo anesthesia.

“We’re trying to space that out so we don’t have a number of patients in the same area at the same time and we reduce the chances of someone getting the virus from our clinic or passing it to someone else,” Dr. Hansen said. “We want a healthy baby and a healthy mom. That’s our goal.”

You’re reminded to call the clinic for your appointment needs. While some appointments require an office visit, the fertility clinic is offering video visits through My Sanford Chart for select Fertility and Reproductive Medicine appointments.

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Posted In Coronavirus, Family Medicine, Frequently Asked Questions, Pregnancy, Specialty Care, Women's

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