SUMMARY ANSWER: The inter-observer agreement among embryologists deciding whether to freeze blastocysts of marginal morphology was low and was not improved by a modified grading system.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: While previous research on inter-observer variability on the decision of which embryo to transfer from a cohort of blastocysts is good, the impact of grading variability regarding decision to freeze borderline blastocysts has not been investigated. Agreement for inner cell mass (ICM) and trophectoderm (TE) grade is only fair, factors which contribute to the grade that influences decision to freeze.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This was a prospective study involving 18 embryologists working at four different IVF clinics within a single organisation between January 2019 and July 2019.
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: All embryologists currently practicing blastocyst grading at a multi-site organisation were invited to participate. The survey was comprised of blastocyst images in three planes and asked (i) the likelihood of freezing and (ii) whether the blastocyst would be frozen based on visual assessment. Blastocysts varied by quality and were categorised as either top (n = 20), borderline (n = 60) or non-viable/degenerate quality (n = 20). A total of 1800 freeze decisions were assessed. To assess the impact of grading criteria on inter-observer agreement for decision to freeze, the survey was taken once when the embryologists used the Gardner criteria and again 6 months after transitioning to a modified Gardner criterion with four grades for ICM and TE. The fourth grade was introduced with the aim to promote higher levels of agreement for the clinical usability decision when the blastocyst was of marginal quality.
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: The inter-observer agreement for decision to freeze was near perfect (kappa 1.0) for top and non-viable/degenerate quality blastocysts, and this was not affected by the blastocysts grading criteria used (top quality; P = 0.330 and non-viable/degenerate quality; P = 0.18). In contrast, the cohort of borderline blastocysts received a mixed freeze rate (average 52.7%) during the first survey, indicative of blastocysts that showed uncertain viability and promoting significant disagreement for decision to freeze among the embryologists (kappa 0.304). After transitioning to a modified Gardner criteria with an additional grading tier, the average freeze rate increased (64.8%; P