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Understanding your fertility is a nightmare. Here’s a better way

In the final installment of her series Project Junior, Smart Design’s Stephanie Yung rethinks the information vortex that plagues today’s fertility industry.

Understanding your fertility is a nightmare. Here’s a better way
[Image: courtesy Smart Design]

Trying to get pregnant on your own feels a bit like being shot into space. You’re looking for anything familiar to grasp, but you’re surrounded by alien terminology–all while being poked and prodded by foreign objects and unfamiliar faces. It makes you feel vulnerable and out of your depth–especially when it comes to the mountains of personal data being captured and collected about you throughout the process.

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Some of the most critical information is provided to you verbally, when you are lying on your back in stirrups naked, aside from a flimsy medical gown separating you from the examination table. You don’t have a pencil, paper, or phone at hand to take notes. It was during one of these appointments that my doctor told me that I should be seeking a sperm donor who was CMV Negative, because my blood had tested as such. At that very moment I was already feeling overwhelmed by an X-ray exam of my uterus and fallopian tubes, so the information really didn’t sink in. What did CMV Negative mean, anyway? And if the information was important, surely the doctor would notify me again via email or capture it in some record? I was mistaken.

Like a lot of your personal health information, you are unlikely to come across this tidbit of data again until it is too late. In my case? Four months later, when I purchased the wrong sperm (CMV Positive)–a mistake that could have resulted in an infection that can be detrimental to a fetus. In part, this all happened because organizations, like sperm banks, operate completely independently from fertility clinics. There is simply no system in place to share information between providers when they have a mutual patient. This decentralization causes a lot of unnecessary stress throughout the fertility process–making it seem like the only one connecting the dots is you. This becomes even more arduous as a single woman, when you have to manage and navigate this information vortex on your own.

Instead of being out of your depth coordinating all of the logistics around these moving pieces, what if you felt informed, in control, and engaged? To establish a clearer and more confident pathway, my design team and I developed Jr., a simplified and guided digital service that joins all the dots, so you can focus on what’s most important to action at each and every moment of your journey.

Jr.’s dashboard connects the dots between the fragmented data points along your journey, to create a more streamlined, actionable, and personalized fertility pathway. [Image: courtesy Smart Design]
One key feature is a personal dashboard that centralizes all of your up-to-date information and data, eliminating avoidable mistakes like the purchasing of wrong sperm. It can also assist you by recommending customized support based on unique details provided during your onboarding, such as tools to help you establish a realistic budget as a single parent.

As a design director, my job requires me to spearhead long-term projects that involve considerable complexity, multiple phases of work, and a myriad of stakeholders. So it surprised me how hard I found it staying on top of everything, despite having these inherent skills at my disposal. The multitude of tests, financing, administrative hurdles, absence of coordinated parties, lack of knowledge on my part, and an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all process were huge barriers in the way of my success. I never saw a clear overview of the entire fertility journey, which created more ambiguity and contributed to the daunting effects of the experience. To try to get me more grounded in the clinical aspects, my doctor did provide a paper checklist of all the appointments I would need to make throughout. Even then, it didn’t address pressing questions I had, such as: Why do I need to have this appointment? What tests and procedures should I be expecting next? What does insurance cover? How much should I be expecting to pay? In the U.S. healthcare system, insurance companies don’t talk to hospitals in advance, so when I went for an appointment last July, I had no clue how much I owed until I received a $1,000+ bill in December–for just one appointment. With no advance warning, I couldn’t even roughly budget for the essential steps–and that’s before trying to anticipate how many rounds of IUI it might take to conceive.

To address some of these problems, my design team and I developed Jr. to break down the fertility journey into digestible increments and milestones to help navigate and manage expectations more realistically, easily, and in context. For each milestone, you see the details, cost implications, steps that need to be taken, and suggested questions for you to ask your doctor. Arming women with this extra support is aimed at making them feel more prepared, by pinpointing where they are now in relation to what’s occurred in the past, and what’s coming up.

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Jr. helps aggregate all the appointments and steps of your fertility journey, building confidence by clearly outlining what to expect or do at each milestone. [Image: courtesy Smart Design]
Trying for a family through IUI also raises a minefield of questions that pop up even more unpredictably than the mass of medical bills that filled my mailbox. Getting the right advice at the right time, particularly in moments when you’re panicking, was a real issue for me. Questions included: When should I come in for my IUI? What do I do if I’m spotting? How do I exchange this sperm? There’s no one authoritative source for this information–it’s fragmented beyond belief. Over seven months I interacted with no fewer than three doctors, five nurses, two account administrators, one insurance customer service agent, two medical secretaries, a psychologist, a genetic counselor, and a sperm bank sales rep–each of whom you contact based on their specific areas of expertise. Added to that, each individual is hard to reach instantly, and has his or her own preferred mode (be it phone call or email). Trust me when I say–these are not the sort of questions you want to leave to Google.

Jr. provides on-demand support with a personalized assistant that acts as an advocate and adviser during your fertility journey. [Image: courtesy Smart Design]

We’ve been looking at ways to close this knowledge gap with a tool to consolidate and answer all the questions and concerns that might come up while you’re going about your daily life. Rather than needing myriad communication modes with a matrix of experts, Jr. would pair you with your own on-demand personal Fertility Advocate to elicit immediate responses to burning questions and help curate the right advice from the trained professionals you need along the way–including pharmacists, psychiatrists, and other specialists.

Stephanie Yung is a design director at Smart Design’s New York studio. She also serves as design adviser on the board of not-for-profit technology company Simprints. Jr. was conceptualized by Yung and her strategic design team: Crystal Ellis, Sarah Phares, Steffany Tran, and Haley Rasmussen. To read the rest of this series, go here and here

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