November 16, 2012 — An Iowa-based program that uses telemedicine to provide medication abortion improved access to the procedure, but it did not increase the number of abortions in the state, according to a study published on Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, the Des Moines Register reports.
Researchers compared the number of abortions statewide in the two years before and after Planned Parenthood of the Heartland's telemedicine system was introduced (Krogstad, Des Moines Register, 11/15). Participants in the program receive an ultrasound, an examination from a nurse and a consultation with a physician via the Internet on a private computer. If the patient is an appropriate candidate for medication abortion, the physician dispenses the medication remotely by pressing a button that opens a container with the drugs at the patient's location (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/21/11).
The study found that the abortion rate in Iowa declined after the program launched in June 2008. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood reported a small increase in abortions provided, likely because the program expanded the organization's services to women who otherwise would have difficulty finding an abortion provider, according to study author Daniel Grossman, vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health and a clinical professor of obstetrics at the University of California-San Francisco.
Grossman added that the study found a slight decrease in the number of abortions performed in the second trimester, when the procedure carries more risks, but that more research is needed. PPH officials noted that a prior survey of women who received telemedicine abortion services found a high rate of satisfaction and low rate of complications.
Penny Dickey, a public affairs officer for PPH, said the study illustrates the value of telemedicine in abortion care. "The results of this study confirm that providing access to medication abortion using telemedicine does not increase the number of abortions, but allows a woman to end a pregnancy when and where it is best for her," Dickey said in a statment (Des Moines Register, 11/15).