Heartland Fertility introduces online self-referrals to reduce appointment wait times

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Heartland Fertility has opened a new location in Winnipeg, Manitoba. As one of the few fertility clinics located near northwestern Ontario, community members can now receive advanced fertility treatments and self-refer themselves for consultations—decreasing the wait time to grow a family.

“I’m very excited,” said Dr. Gordon McTavish, medical director of Heartland Fertility. “It has been a project that’s been in the works for several years now because we know that the demand for infertility has been expanding and growing two to three fold over the last 10 years.”

On January 11, 2024, Heartland Fertility hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony where former clients shared their testimonies to celebrate the success of former fertility treatments.

Heartland Fertility originally opened in 1997 at their former location on Portage Avenue. The former facility first began with 3 physicians.

The new clinic is located at 124 Nature Park Way, just off Kenaston Boulevard, about a 5 hour drive from the Rainy River District in northwestern Ontario.

The facility expanded from 6500 to 15,000 square feet, almost three times the square footage of the original location.

Currently, there are 6 fertility specialists. Dr. McTavish added that they recently hired another reproductive surgeon who will join the team in April. Around 3 part time physicians are increasing their intake at the clinic to speed up the referral process.

“They get the initial referral and triage to see whether it’s a straightforward fertility consultation that can use very something simple, or they might find, right off the bat, that referral might need more assisted reproductive treatments requiring to see an REI (Reproductive Endocrinologist) or a fertility specialist faster,” he said.

Heartland Fertility is now able to offer northwestern Ontario patients advanced fertility treatments, and is working to reduce wait times and streamline the path to results, through a self-referral process. – Submitted photo

800 referrals are currently on the waitlist for Heartland Fertility, Dr. McTavish said. By opening up self-referrals, the clinic becomes more accessible to women seeking treatments.

“Sometimes you can create a logjam, right? And I think that was 800 people wanting to get into fertility services. We’re trying to expedite getting them treated as quickly as possible,” he said.

Before, the average wait time to receive an appointment was one year.

Now, thanks to self-referrals, Dr. McTavish hopes they can see people within weeks or months.

Those interested in services from the clinic can request an appointment by filling out a form on their website. No physician referral is required, and potential clients can expect to receive a reply within 1 to 2 business days to book an appointment.

Although, there are pros and cons to the new setup.

Some people may prefer to touch base with a family physician or gynecologist before hand to talk about fertility issues. On the other hand, many facing fertility issues feel that time is limited and want to see a specialist as soon as possible.

“They’re wanting to try and solve the problem as quickly as they can,” Dr. McTavish said. “So by allowing that self referral, it’s at least letting them touch base with one of our family physicians to initiate the workup and sort of find out where the problem is. So we’re hoping that we’re trying to accommodate the needs of everybody and we can do them in a fairly time effective and time efficient manner.”

Those who complete self-referral will see a family physician at the facility either in office or by virtual appointments to discuss history and health, said Dr. McTavish, who explained that the process is new and may be adjusted along the way.

“We’re hoping that that’s going to be successful. But like any thing that you start, you often will modify to make improvements if something’s not working,” he said.

Fertility declines as we age, making timing an important factor when it comes to expanding the family.

If people have not conceived within around 6 months of trying, specialists at Heartland Fertility suggest initiating a referral at your nearest clinic.

“A young couple that have been trying for six months and they’re not pregnant, there’s a problem, whether it’s a male factor or a female factor problem. And the sooner we can investigate that, the better we’re going to have a chance with fertility treatment options,” Dr. McTavish said.

The facility’s catchment area includes towns as near and far as Sioux Lookout, Kenora, Fort Frances, and even Thunder Bay. Entry level fertility treatments are available in Thunder Bay, but many will travel to Heartland Fertility in Winnipeg to receive advanced fertility treatments.