Are we beginning to feel the strain of too many webinars?

Andrew Coutts


Pre Covid-19 there were only a few opportunities to jump online onto a presentation or discussion about fertility. Some of the forward thinking and marketing driven treatment providers were ahead of the game and were already sharing webinars featuring patient testimonials, clinic walk throughs and expert talks before the first Coronavirus infection. A few of the more active Insta Influencers had spotted the potential of the online ‘Live’ and were using it to share education, offer advice or to merely promote themselves. For most of the time, it worked.

Then in the early spring of 2020 Covid-19 started creeping and within a relatively short period it had lept on societies across the globe, pausing, cancelling and shutting down everything in its way. The fertility field was no exception, clinics closed, treatments were cancelled, hopes were put on hold.

Like many other countries the UK went, after polite consideration, into full lockdown in March 2020. There was general consensus that staying away from each other was the right thing to do so as a nation we took our ball and went inside. And, we rolled slowly forward.

Like every other field of activity, the fertility community took a breath, stepped back but then thought, what next?. Our biological clocks didn’t stop for Covid-19 and as each day and month passed the ticking got a little louder. Patients sought assurances, answers. Professionals did their best to comfort but the virus caused uncertainty and this uncertainty which began as a ripple, then raged across the tightly knitted fertility community.

Trying to conceive and failing is one of the most stressful emotions you can experience and historically it was an emotion that wasn’t shared, even among close family and friends. I brushed against the fertility field as a patient twenty years ago and ten years later as a professional. In that time there was a noticeable shift in the way individuals and society viewed infertility. As more of us were becoming affected by it, the more fertility stepped out of the shadows. In short, fertility joined the mainstream.

A new profession was born. ‘Fertility Specialist’ became a title not solely owned by the medical doctor; now it began to be adopted by a new crowd of individuals and agencies offering emotional support, coaching and even fertility travel, my own area of interest. This groundswell of people queing up to share information and advice on every aspect of infertility meant that in many ways the fertility patient too, became a Fertility Specialist. Infertility had arrived and we were at last beginning to talk about it.

Then, bang. Coronavirus reared its ugly head and started to have a real impact on people’s ability to access time limited fertility treatment. Older patients wondered if they were going to be ‘too old’ to get their treatment – Even (good) private clinics now have an upper age limit for patients – others were anxious about their ‘frozen’ embryos stored in laboratories and others speculated whether treatment would actually start again.

 The fertility community was crying out for a ‘cure’ like the rest of society. Their cure however didn’t come in a syringe, it emerged in the form of the Webinar. After weeks of uncertainty the webinar became the school yard for adults interested in fertility, an online haven for ideas, rants, frustrations, tears but also for reassurance, comfort and support.

My inbox and social media platforms bulged daily with invites to Insta Lives, Zooms, and Teams sent from all over the world. Speaking as a ‘Boomer’ I was blown away, telemedicine had suddenly come of age and patients were beginning to benefit from online services that hadn’t existed six months previously. Clinics and clinicians were talking to patients in their own homes; patients were talking to each other in safe, private environments and couples were ordering products designed to offer the promise of parenthood.

Webinars were running headlong towards the sombre spectre of Covid-19 and there was a great sense of togetherness and community. Some great examples of education and support were provided; launched over 250 videos and webinars that brought together ‘proper’ fertility specialists from all over the world. Closer to home, ‘The Man cave’ Instagram webinars offered the inspirational and honest thoughts of a male fertility patient.

Six months after the first wave of fertility webinars there appears to be no wane in the number of webinars and videos going live. A recent conversation with a colleague, and the reason behind this article, got me thinking, are we beginning to feel the strain of too many webinars? My eyes glazed when he calmly announced that he had spoken at 42 webinars in the previous three weeks, quite a feat at two a day. I wondered what there was left to say.

As the levels of compliance that were upheld by so many in March begin to fray in the face of lockdown yo yo I wonder if the fertility community too has also become tired of the webinar. I have randomly begun to surf Lives and videos and notice invariably there might be 3 people watching, I imagine the presenters disappointment as three become two as I leave.

And as we huncker down for what is likely to be a long winter it will be interesting to see if the fertility webinar can regain and maintain its popularity or whether like Covid it will slowly take a step back into the shadows.

Whilst we wait, my first webinar, ‘It Doesn’t Stop at the Pot’, a male only discussion on male fertility diagnosis and treatment is going live on Wednesday 4 November, to mark the UK’s Fertility Week. I have decided to play rather than to shout from the touchline. Hopefully we will attract a good crowd.

Andrew Coutts is the Chief Executive of the International Fertility Company and a PhD Research student at the Centre for Reproduction Research at the Du Montfort University.

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