Jill Durocher

Expansion of a Direct-to-Patient Telemedicine Abortion Service in the United States and Experience during the COVID-19 Pandemic

March 26th, 2021
Medication Abortion
Chong E, Shochet T, Raymond E, Platais I, Anger HA, Raidoo S, Soon R, Grant MS, Haskell S, Tocce K, Baldwin MK, Boraas CM, Bednarek PH, Banks J, Coplon L, Thompson F, Priegue E, Winikoff B

Featured in the Society of Family Planning's list of top ten most discussed publications in 2021 and a most-cited Contraception publication in 2023.

Contraception; 2021 March 26; Vol. 104(1):43-48; doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2021.03.019

Objective: To present updated evidence on the safety, efficacy and acceptability of a direct-to-patient telemedicine abortion service and describe how the service functioned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Study Design: We offered the study at 10 sites that provided the service in 13 states and Washington DC. Interested individuals obtained any needed pre-abortion tests locally and had a videoconference with a study clinician. Sites sent study packages containing mifepristone and misoprostol by mail and had remote follow-up consultations within one month by telephone (or by online survey, if the participant could not be reached) to evaluate abortion completeness. The analysis was descriptive.

Results: We mailed 1390 packages between May 2016 and September 2020. Of the 83% (1157/1390) of abortions for which we obtained outcome information, 95% (1103/1157) were completed without a procedure. Participants made 70 unplanned visits to emergency rooms or urgent care centers for reasons related to the abortion (6%), and ten serious adverse events occurred, including five transfusions (0.4%). Enrollment increased substantially with the onset of COVID-19. Although a screening ultrasound was required, sites determined in 52% (346/669) of abortions that occurred during COVID that those participants should not get the test to protect their health. Use of urine pregnancy test to confirm abortion completion increased from 67% (144/214) in the six months prior to COVID to 90% (602/669) in the six months during COVID. Nearly all satisfaction questionnaires (99%, 1013/1022) recorded that participants were satisfied with the service.

Conclusions: This direct-to-patient telemedicine service was safe, effective, and acceptable, and supports the claim that there is no medical reason for mifepristone to be dispensed in clinics as required by the Food and Drug Administration. In some cases, participants did not need to visit any facilities to obtain the service, which was critical to protecting patient safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.