From the Journals

Medication abortion with telemedicine is comparable to in-person visit



Patients who underwent medication abortion under the care of a clinician through a telemedicine service did not have any difference in outcomes, compared with patients who saw a clinician in person, according to a study in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“To the extent that state bans on telemedicine for abortion rest on arguments of improved patient safety, the findings of this and previous studies do not support such contentions,” Julia E. Kohn, PhD, MPA, from Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York and colleagues wrote.

Dr. Kohn, with colleagues from Ibis Reproductive Health, Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, and the University of California, San Francisco, assessed the outcomes of 5,952 patients who underwent medication abortion either through a telemedicine visit (738 patients) or in-person visit (5,214 patients). In the telemedicine group, the patients took mifepristone in view of the clinician over a secure videoconference platform followed by misoprostol 48 hours later as dispensed by a health center. Patients in the telemedicine group had a slightly older gestational age (50 days), compared with patients in the standard-care group (49 days).

Telemedicine patients received the same on-site care as those patients who saw a clinician in person, including informed consent, lab testing, and ultrasound scans. Patients who received care over telemedicine also received the same follow-up instructions as those who received standard of care, which consisted of an ultrasound evaluation 1-2 weeks after the visit, or human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) testing.

While telemedicine patients were less likely to follow up at 45 days than were patients who received standard care (60% vs. 77%; prevalence ratio, 0.83; 95% confidence interval, 0.78-0.88), they also were less likely to have an ongoing pregnancy at follow-up (0.5% vs. 1.8%; adjusted odds ratio, 0.23; 95% CI, 0.14–0.39) or undergo an aspiration procedure (1% vs. 5%; aOR, 0.28; 95% CI, 0.17–0.46) than were standard-of-care patients. With regard to adverse events, the rate was less than 1% for each group, and the researchers reported no maternal deaths in either group.

Dr. Eve Espey of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

Dr. Eve Espey

Eve Espey, MD, MPH, professor and chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the family planning fellowship at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, commented that this study expands the evidence of positive outcomes of telemedicine abortion to four new states: Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, and Washington.

“Abortion access is limited in the large rural states in which the study was conducted; across the country, abortion access is increasingly limited by restrictive legislation including telemedicine abortion bans,” she said in an interview. “This reassuring study helps demonstrate the safety of telemedicine medication abortion and highlights the role of telemedicine in improving health equity by increasing access to a critical health care service.”

The researchers said the results were limited in that most telemedicine care was centered in one state, Nevada, and the sample size was inadequate to do per-state comparisons of in-person visits and telemedicine. In addition, follow-up data was available for 75% of patients, which meant approximately one-fourth of patients did not follow up with the health center.

The Susan T. Buffett Foundation provided a grant for this study. Dr. Grossman receives consulting payments from Planned Parenthood Federation of America for work related to telemedicine for medication abortion. The other authors reported no relevant conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Kohn JE et al. Obstet Gynecol. 2019. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000003357.

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