Comprehensive protocol of traceability during IVF: the result of a multicentre failure mode and effect analysis

Hum Reprod. 2017 Aug 1;32(8):1612-1620. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dex144.


Study question: Can traceability of gametes and embryos be ensured during IVF?

Summary answer: The use of a simple and comprehensive traceability system that includes the most susceptible phases during the IVF process minimizes the risk of mismatches.

What is known already: Mismatches in IVF are very rare but unfortunately possible with dramatic consequences for both patients and health care professionals. Traceability is thus a fundamental aspect of the treatment. A clear process of patient and cell identification involving witnessing protocols has to be in place in every unit. To identify potential failures in the traceability process and to develop strategies to mitigate the risk of mismatches, previously failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) has been used effectively. The FMEA approach is however a subjective analysis, strictly related to specific protocols and thus the results are not always widely applicable. To reduce subjectivity and to obtain a widespread comprehensive protocol of traceability, a multicentre centrally coordinated FMEA was performed.

Study design, size, duration: Seven representative Italian centres (three public and four private) were selected. The study had a duration of 21 months (from April 2015 to December 2016) and was centrally coordinated by a team of experts: a risk analysis specialist, an expert embryologist and a specialist in human factor. Principal investigators of each centre were first instructed about proactive risk assessment and FMEA methodology. A multidisciplinary team to perform the FMEA analysis was then formed in each centre. After mapping the traceability process, each team identified the possible causes of mistakes in their protocol. A risk priority number (RPN) for each identified potential failure mode was calculated. The results of the FMEA analyses were centrally investigated and consistent corrective measures suggested. The teams performed new FMEA analyses after the recommended implementations.

Participants/materials, setting, methods: In each centre, this study involved: the laboratory director, the Quality Control & Quality Assurance responsible, Embryologist(s), Gynaecologist(s), Nurse(s) and Administration. The FMEA analyses were performed according to the Joint Commission International.

Main results and the role of chance: The FMEA teams identified seven main process phases: oocyte collection, sperm collection, gamete processing, insemination, embryo culture, embryo transfer and gamete/embryo cryopreservation. A mean of 19.3 (SD ± 5.8) associated process steps and 41.9 (SD ± 12.4) possible failure modes were recognized per centre. A RPN ≥15 was calculated in a mean of 6.4 steps (range 2-12, SD ± 3.60). A total of 293 failure modes were centrally analysed 45 of which were considered at medium/high risk. After consistent corrective measures implementation and re-evaluation, a significant reduction in the RPNs in all centres (RPN <15 for all steps) was observed. A simple and comprehensive traceability system was designed as the result of the seven FMEA analyses.

Limitations, reasons for caution: The validity of FMEA is in general questionable due to the subjectivity of the judgments. The design of this study has however minimized this risk by introducing external experts for the analysis of the FMEA results. Specific situations such as sperm/oocyte donation, import/export and pre-implantation genetic testing were not taken into consideration. Finally, this study is only limited to the analysis of failure modes that may lead to mismatches, other possible procedural mistakes are not accounted for.

Wider implications of the findings: Every single IVF centre should have a clear and reliable protocol for identification of patients and traceability of cells during manipulation. The results of this study can support IVF groups in better recognizing critical steps in their protocols, understanding identification and witnessing process, and in turn enhancing safety by introducing validated corrective measures.

Study funding/competing interest(s): This study was designed by the Italian Society of Embryology Reproduction and Research (SIERR) and funded by the Italian National Transplant Centre (CNT) of the Italian National Institute of Health (ISS). The authors have no conflicts of interest.

Trial registration number: N/A.

Keywords: IVF; embryo mismatch; failure mode and effect analysis; risk analysis; traceability; witness.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Embryo Transfer / methods*
  • Female
  • Fertilization in Vitro / methods*
  • Healthcare Failure Mode and Effect Analysis
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Oocyte Retrieval / methods*