How Mental Healthcare for Team Members and Patients Can Improve Pregnancy Outcomes and The Patient Experience

Like infertility, mental health has long been a taboo subject. Thanks to efforts to destigmatize both – and to acknowledge that these are true medical conditions – we have made incredible progress as a society in breaking the painful stigmas that can isolate us from family, friends and colleagues. And more healthcare practices recognize that in order to provide comprehensive care, they must treat the entire patient – body and mind.

This is especially true when it comes to fertility care, as research has found that a large percentage of patients notice that their mental health is compromised due to the physical, emotional and financial stress that treatments can cause.

And there is a lot of science to support it. One study found that 56% of women and 32% of men who underwent reproductive health care achieved clinical severity for depression. Anxiety scores were even higher, with 76% of women and 61% of men scoring in the clinical range for anxiety. Another recent study in Reproductive Biomedicine Online found that the stress of infertility was comparable to the stress of the first outbreak of the pandemic.

But what we have also come to know is that addressing the spiritual component of fertility care can increase positive patient outcomes. In a meta-analysis that looked at 39 different studies, researchers found that mental health care both increased pregnancy rates and reduced psychological distress in those seeking fertility treatment.

The results are clear: an integrated approach that takes the whole patient into account should be part of every fertility practice and every patient’s journey.

Improving patient outcomes

While it may sound like a heavy chore to incorporate mental health initiatives into a fertility practice, it is much simpler than you would estimate. There are small actions that can take a fertility practice that can yield great results:

  • Ask questions: Asking patients how they feel mentally should be part of your daily practice with each patient. Taking the time to listen to their fears, challenges and even small victories can increase how supportive the patient feels in their journey.
  • Listen for the warning signs: Listening to your patients discuss how they feel can help you determine if they may need mental and emotional support during this journey before they even recognize it. Following this proactive approach can also improve the patient experience – and ultimately patient outcomes.
  • Be prepared: Familiarize yourself with local mental health experts who have worked in the fertility space that you can recommend to your patients. And have readily accessible written stress management materials so they do not have to go on their own to find answers to their mental health questions. It is also important to familiarize yourself with online and local, personal support groups that you can recommend to patients.

The patient experience begins with the employee experience

In reproductive medicine, everyone who participates in a patient’s care, including doctors, nurses, and administrative staff, can be emotionally invested in that journey. In order for these professionals to support their patients, they must also feel spiritually supported by their employers.

The results not only ensure a happier and healthier workforce, but it has been shown that employee satisfaction flows down to patient satisfaction. And in an area of ​​medicine that has historically not been a pleasant experience for patients, enhancing the employee experience through such wellness efforts is valuable.

It is also important to provide employees with the tools and education they need to help their patients navigate through the sensitivities of fertility treatment. Simple, proactive steps such as compassion and empathy training for patient-centered staff can help guide the patient through this challenging time, reduce their stress, and increase the chances of a positive outcome of their treatment.

What’s more, a number of our staff members, myself included, have experienced fertility issues. While this personal commitment was the reason for some of our team members to choose a career in the fertility industry and treat patients, it can also bring out raw emotions while telling them the difficulty of their own travels. Even for those who have not experienced infertility, working every day with stories of insecurity, fear and physical / emotional pain can take a toll on mental health.

Where We Go From Here

A positive patient experience depends not only on the provider’s ability to recognize and provide mental health care levels, but also on a provider’s ability to present the best versions of themselves. Stress is contagious, so healthcare providers should strive to reduce it from every angle.

Whether you are a fertility patient or a provider of reproductive services, access to mental health services is an important part of the journey and can make a difference in employee experience, patient experience and outcomes.

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