Are abortions safe when done via telemedicine?

A new study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that telemedicine abortions can be just as safe as an in-person visit.
Written by Stacy Lipson, Contributor

A new study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that telemedicine abortions can be just as safe as an in-person visit.

Amy Norton from Reuters Health reports:

Women prescribed the "abortion pill" after a videoconference with a doctor appear to fare as well as those who have a face-to-face visit, a new study finds.

To learn more about this study, I spoke with study researcher Dr. Daniel Grossman. Dr. Daniel Grossman is an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. Grossman is also a researcher with Ibis Reproductive Health. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.

What is telemedicine?

In this case, telemedicine involves the use videoconferencing technology to provide real-time medical care between a physician and patient in different locations. This technology has been used in other aspects of medicine to extend the reach of physicians to provide care when an in-person visit is not possible.

What did your research show about abortion pills via telemedicine?

We found that medical abortions performed via telemedicine had the same clinical outcomes as medical abortions performed with an in-person visit with a physician. The effectiveness of the abortion was the same, and complications were rare and occurred at the same rate as with an in-person visit. We also found that women in both groups were very satisfied with the service, but those who went through telemedicine were more likely to say they would recommend the service to a friend. This is likely because women were able to get the appointment sooner or closer to home.

How is this safe? Could this have an effect on a woman's health as she goes through the procedure?

We found that complications among over 3,500 women undergoing medical abortions were rare, and they were no more likely to occur with women who received the service via telemedicine. Serious complications with medical abortions are very rare, so a study needs a very large sample size to detect a difference in serious complications.

Many critics argue that telemedicine abortions are unsafe. States like Kansas, Arizona, North Dakota, Nebraska and Tennessee have banned telemedicine for use in medication abortions. What are your thoughts on this?

Our research indicates that medical abortions can be provided safely via telemedicine. Of course, our study only looked at this model in Iowa. If the service were set up differently in another clinic system, it would be important to document that the clinical outcomes are similar. If state legislatures are truly concerned about women's health and the safety of this procedure, I hope our research will make them reconsider recent legislation that banned telemedicine provision of abortion.

Is there anything you think the public should know about telemedicine and medical procedures that we haven't already discussed?

I think our study confirms other research indicating that women appreciate having more options regarding abortion care. Telemedicine offers another option that may better meet the needs of some women--especially those who live far from an abortion clinic. Restricting access to abortion care and making the procedure harder does not improve their health.

Image: via Dr. Daniel Grossman

Note to readers: This study took place in Iowa.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards