About 12% of women in the U.S. have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. It's a common and highly expensive problem, with studies finding that patients starting fertility treatment should expect to pay at least $5,000 in out-of-pocket costs.
For Deborah and Jake Anderson-Bialis, a married couple from San Francisco who are now expecting their first child, the experience of finding the right doctor was "total, utter hell." They lacked the resources to distinguish between the top specialists and those who peddle snake oil. The first doctor they saw charged astronomical prices but didn't have much experience with their specific health challenges.
"If you get it wrong, it's catastrophic—and a huge waste of money," says Jake, who previously worked at the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. "We promised each other that we would dedicate ourselves to helping other couples make a smart choice."
True to their word, they eventually quit their day jobs to help connect those with fertility challenges to the right provider. Their website, FertilityIQ, goes live today.
The couple say that thousands of people "out of the goodness of their hearts" responded to a request to fill out an assessment form of fertility doctors from whom they've received treatment. These friends of friends shared information about hundreds of fertility providers, including their pricing information, bedside manner, protocols, and the range of treatments they offer. To date, the couple says that patients have contributed assessments on 70% of U.S. fertility doctors operating in 90% of U.S. clinics.
FertilityIQ is intended to be a resource for couples or individuals who are struggling to conceive, as well as for women who are exploring whether to freeze their eggs. In future, the team will develop an algorithm to ensure that every user finds assessments written by others with similar symptoms. They are also working on a messaging application, so users can ask each other questions about their experiences.
Currently, FertilityIQ is available to anyone to browse for free; the founders eventually plan to charge for access to the site. They say they will never "take ad dollars or sell [patient] data" to pharmaceutical companies, or any other third parties.
The founders declined to disclose an exact amount, but say that the price to use the site will be a "drop in the bucket" compared to the typical costs of fertility treatments. Most assistive reproductive technologies are not covered by insurance, so patients are forced to pay out of pocket. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine lists the average price of in-vitro fertilization, or IVF, in the U.S. to be $12,400 per cycle.
"People will definitely spend money to do whatever it takes to have a baby," says Ruth Ann Crystal, a Menlo Park, California-based obstetrician-gynecologist. "It's a huge financial burden."
For this reason, many employers in Silicon Valley have recently rolled out various perks and benefits to help employees and their spouses shoulder the costs of fertility treatments, including paying for a cycle of IVF. Companies like Facebook and Apple are also extending health coverage to employees who want to freeze their eggs. More than a dozen startups have also emerged in the fertility space, including a slew of period-tracking apps.
Despite this, Crystal says that fertility is a largely "untapped" space for entrepreneurs. While she sees a lot of potential in FertilityIQ, she warns potential users about comparing "apples and oranges"—everyone's fertility journey is different. FertilityIQ's founders counter that that is precisely why their tool exists—so LGBT couples, say, can find someone specializing in that area of reproductive assistance, versus someone who has a low sperm count or someone who has egg-quality issues.
Crystal also suggests perusing public data sets from organizations like the Society For Assistive Reproductive Technology (SART) (but note, these data sets are somewhat skewed, as some providers will only take on the lowest-risk cases). FertilityIQ uses only a minimal amount of data from CDC and other health agencies.
FertilityIQ's founders say the timing is right, as they've noticed an increasing trend for patients to seek information online, and not just from friends and family. And when patients are paying out of pocket, as is typically the case with fertility treatments, there's even more of an incentive to comparison shop.
"Patients are increasingly in control of their own destiny," says Jake.