The commonest question patients ask IVF doctors is, "What is your success rate?" It's an easy question to ask, but the answer can be extremely misleading and therefore you need to be careful how you interpret the number.

For one, a lot of doctors just lie to you , and don't tell you the truth. Indian clinics aren't obliged to report their statistics, and they can spin it any which way they want . There's no way you can verify the figures they quote - and lots of these are cooked up !


Secondly, doctors can be very choosy about how they report their success rate. For example, they can manipulate the numerator , and instead of it being the number of babies their patients have taken home, it could be the number of patients who get a positive pregnancy test. They manipulate the denominator as well. Ideally, this should be all the patients who come to them for a consultation, or all the patients for whom they start an IVF cycle. Many will conveniently remove the poor prognosis patients from this, by not counting the patients where they cancelled the cycle because of a poor ovarian response. If the denominator is only the good prognosis patients, this will obviously inflate their success rate.


Doctors will game their numbers because they want these to be as high as possible . They can use these dressed up numbers to convince the patient to come to them for treatment , as compared to the competing IVF clinic down the road. This is why patients need to be sophisticated when they ask this question.


One way is to ask, "What are the chances of getting pregnant in your clinic for a woman who is in the same situation which I am in?" A good doctor will then give you a more representative answer , since this will be tailored depending on your particular medical problem. The limitation of this approach is that it's hard to draw reliable conclusions from a small sample size.


Finally, patients also need to remember that while it's easy to ask the question, it's far more important to first ask yourself, "What am I going to do with this answer?"


This is a big problem with statistics. It's easy to compile them, but often numbers conceal the truth. You don't care about what happens to the other women in the IVF clinic - you only care about what happens to you. The problem is that the doctor is not a fortune teller , and cannot predict this accurately .


However , many patients will arm-twist their doctor into giving an answer. They believe that a number will help to ensure that they are making a well-informed decision. However, this figure could actually be very misleading , because the law of small numbers kicks in, which means we can't predict what happens to individual patients. We are good at predicting probabilities when we have to deal with large groups, but fail miserably when the numbers are small - and this is what usually applies in most IVF clinics.


Finally, you need to compare that number with what your chances of getting pregnant are if you choose to do nothing. This is why, sometimes, even if the chances are poor, it's well worth taking treatment , so you have peace of mind that you gave baby making your best shot !