Direct-to-consumer fertility tests confuse and mislead consumers

A first-of-its-kind study reveals consumers feel both empowered and confused by popular fertility testing services.

Direct-to-consumer hormone-based fertility testing for women is viewed by consumers as both an alternative, empowering tool for family planning, and a confusing and misleading one, according to the results of a new study from Penn Medicine. Findings from the small, first-of-its-kind ethnographic study reinforce the need for consumer education around the purpose and accuracy of the tests, which have seen increasing interest in recent years due to the low cost and widespread availability. The study was published in the journal of Social Science and Medicine

hand holding an at-home ovulation test strip

Many direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies in the “FemTech” space offer a test for anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH), a marker that estimates the size of a woman’s egg supply or ovarian reserve, which have also been called the “egg timer” or “biological clock test.” Fertility products and testing is frequently marketed as an accessible, low-cost option for investigating fertility status, yet the tests are not predictive of natural conception. Measuring AMH levels has primarily been used as a clinical diagnostic tool prior to ovarian stimulation for in vitro fertilization (IVF) in women with infertility, or before oocyte cryopreservation (i.e. egg freezing), in order to guide medication selection and anticipate success rates. However, recently more women have been engaging with DTC testing, due, in part, to barriers to care like strict guidelines for diagnosis of infertility, insurance coverage limitations, high costs, and rising concern about age-related fertility decline.

“Consumers continue to desire these tests, and they’re attractive, but they don’t deliver on their promise,” says Moira Kyweluk, a fellow in the department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy in the Perelman School of Medicine, and the author of the paper. “I view DTC testing as an entry point into what I term the ‘new (in)fertility pipeline’ for women today. Because it is low cost and widely available, it’s reaching a larger demographic, people of diverse identities and backgrounds, and raising awareness of more advanced procedures and technologies like egg freezing.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.