The recent news that the NHS is refusing to fund IVF cycles to couples with children from previous relationships in some areas of the country is an unsurprising next step for the cash-strapped public body. Clinical commissioning groups have been reducing the number of IVF cycles they will fund over the last few years so much so that only 11.5% of them actually offer the recommended three cycles. The fact this will drive more desperate couples to private IVF providers will be the unsurprising outcome. What is surprising is that said private providers are still a long way away from providing a truly consumer-centric service that will tempt all those potential customers.
The fact is, the IVF market is still a hugely fragmented one with lots of small one-clinic businesses focused around ‘star’ clinicians. With the main focus rightly on the actual procedures, a lot of these businesses haven’t got the capacity and in-house business development and PR expertise to think about making the whole experience a consumer-friendly one.
For a start, a lot more could be done about transparency around pricing – lots of add-on services such as genetic screening tests and additional drugs are often offered without it being made clear that these aren’t included in the advertised price of a cycle of IVF. This obviously adds extra stress to what is already a sensitive process for patients and can put them off trying further cycles. Providers should consider having clearer pricing pages on their websites and marketing materials handed out at events, highlighting what is and isn’t included.
It also goes without saying that star clinicians don’t have the time capacity (and in some cases, the inclination) to also make sure the patient’s hand is held every step of the way. Patients who are paying thousands of pounds are going to want to know they can call at any time with questions and that when they are in the building they will be treated to five-star customer service. Clinics should therefore add to their customer service teams and make sure each would-be parent has one person, trained up on the answers to common questions, as a point of contact.
Furthermore, savvy providers and investors looking to win the lion share of potential customers should consider diversifying their services. Why stop at just providing fertilisation services at your clinic(s)? Customers who experience IVF success will be open to pre and post-natal physiotherapy. Customers whose cycles have failed could suffer mental health issues as a result, so why aren’t IVF providers offering a counselling service as well? Offering an in-house service that will help couples with alternatives to IVF such as advice on adoption, is another innovation to consider.
Offering such a wide range of services that cater for all outcomes from the core service of IVF, means providers will look more expert and caring and therefore attract more customers. It is also easier to sell those extra services because the businesses will already have the contact data to hand on who potential customers are because they have already walked through their doors for IVF.
NHS cuts to fertility funding have opened up a lot of room for growth for private IVF providers, but there is evidently a lot more they could be doing to actually deliver a service people will be willing to pay for. In an age where damning online reviews are easy to make and scupper a business, private providers need to make sure they diversify and improve their customer service, as well as produce spot-on PR and marketing strategy to highlight all this, or customers will be walking straight back out through the doors.