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Avoiding Mix-Ups in the IVF Lab

It is difficult to imagine a circumstance where a mix-up in a medical situation could have a more damaging effect than in an IVF laboratory. For this reason, at my practice, we take this issue very seriously and devote considerable time and effort into designing a system in which a mistake cannot happen. Below is a list of items that should be assessed when choosing any fertility clinic.


Assembling the right team is the most important and fundamental part of running a good laboratory and each and every one of the Embryologists at Pacific Fertility Center (where I practice) is Board Certified and Licensed in their specialty. The State of California does not currently require licensure for Embryologists, but Pacific Fertility Center insists that all our staff are certified to the highest available standard. We are fortunate in having one of the most highly trained teams in the country and we pride ourselves on our honesty, diligence and thoroughness.

Preparing for a procedure

When a patient is scheduled for a procedure such as IVF or IUI, the laboratory receives at least 24 hours notice of the case. Notice is served in the form of a Requisition, a document submitted by a Physician detailing all procedures to be performed. Upon receipt of this document, an embryologist will begin the preparations for the case. This usually involves the preparation of test tubes and petri dishes containing a special fluid that will be used to incubate, sperm, eggs and/or embryos. Each item is carefully labeled with clear and unique identifying information that includes the patient's name, and the patient is also assigned a color to further code her tubes and dishes.

Once the preparation is complete, the labeled and colored tubes and dishes are assigned to an incubator where they will warm to body temperature and equilibrate until the patient reports for her procedure the following day. We are careful to avoid assigning 2 cases to a single incubator on the same day. Even though an incubator can accommodate up to 3 cases we never have a situation where the eggs from 2 patients are going into the same incubator on the same day. Also, each incubator has 2 doors and both doors are clearly labeled with your name and color code. This allows the embryologist to see your name twice, first on the main door and then on the inner door, before ever handling your specimen.

Performing a procedure - General

In general, we have 2 embryologists performing procedures for the simple reason that we always know that we did it correctly. We are not required to assign 2 people to procedures, but we accept that a little redundancy eliminates the possibility of an error. When sperm are being added to eggs for example, one embryologist actually performs the procedure and another simply observes. Both embryologists sign off that they checked the paperwork, labeling, color code and performance of the procedure.
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About the Author

Dr. Herbert is a fertility expert and an innovator in the field.