New York, NY — A new study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that medication abortion via telemedicine is just as safe and effective as when the health care provider is in the same health center as the patient. The study was conducted by Planned Parenthood Federation of America — with researchers from Ibis Reproductive Health and University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) — and supports existing evidence that outcomes for medication abortion via telemedicine are comparable with medication abortion provided in person.
The study is the nation's largest multi-state study of medication abortion via telemedicine to date, with researchers analyzing records from nearly 6,000 patients receiving medication abortion either through telemedicine or in person at 26 Planned Parenthood health centers in Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, and Washington.
“As access to abortion shrinks across the country, telemedicine is one strategy for expanding patients’ access to safe, legal abortion, including for those living in remote or rural areas. At Planned Parenthood, we conduct research and support innovation so we can find new ways to expand people’s access to services and offer the best health care to our patients,” said Dr. Julia Kohn, national director of research, evaluation, and data analytics for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and lead author of the study. “This study confirms what we know firsthand: Telemedicine can improve health equity by ensuring that more people have access to the care they need — including abortion — in a timely manner by reducing the barriers that make it harder for people to get care, including securing transportation, childcare, and time off work.”
Medication abortion has been safe and legal in the U.S. since the FDA approved its use nearly 20 years ago. It has helped ensure that patients are able to make their own private medical decisions, and it has expanded access to reproductive health care.
In a health-center-to-health center model of providing abortion via telemedicine, a patient has an ultrasound scan, laboratory testing, and counseling with health center staff. Telemedicine patients then meet with a provider in another health center through a secure videoconferencing platform, while standard medication abortion patients meet with a provider in person. During the study period, researchers compared rates of ongoing pregnancy, the need for a subsequent in-clinic abortion, and any significant adverse effects between the two groups. Researchers concluded that medication abortion provided remotely offers patients the same effective, high-quality care that they would receive if they were in the same room with the same trained providers. The study also found that complications are very rare for medication abortion via telemedicine, which is consistent with findings from previously published research.
Restrictions and political attacks on access to abortion have left entire swaths of the country without access to safe, legal abortion, disproportionately affecting people with low incomes, people of color, and people living in rural communities. Right now, anti-abortion politicians are pushing burdensome and medically unnecessary bans that effectively prohibit access to medication abortion via telemedicine. Leading medical associations, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), agree these bans are not based in evidence.
"The shortage of providers and clinics makes abortion difficult to access in the United States. Telemedicine extends the reach of providers to increase the availability of services," said Dr. Daniel Grossman, director, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at UCSF and a co-author of the study. “Given the wave of abortion bans and restrictions on access to health care across the country, people need more access to safe, legal abortion, not less. While medication abortion via telemedicine is not the solution to these abortion bans, this study shows that it is one way to help more people get the care they need, when they need it.”
Planned Parenthood is proud to offer medication abortion via health-center-to-health-center telemedicine in 14 states. As the nation’s leading sexual and reproductive health care provider, Planned Parenthood is committed to making sure all patients receive the high-quality health care they need, when they need it — including safe, legal abortion. By providing medication abortion safely and effectively via telemedicine, we can expand access to abortion for people, no matter where they live.
The article is now available online and will be published in the August print issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.