BMJ-SRH JOURNAL ARTICLES – Adherence to treatment and prevalence of side effects when medical abortion is delivered via telemedicine 

by John-Joseph Reynolds Wright, Anne Johnston, Karen McCabe, Emily Evans, Sharon Cameron

BMJ-SRH, 28 October 2021

Background – The Scottish government introduced legislation during the COVID-19 outbreak to permit medical abortion at home with telemedicine. All women received an initial telephone consultation. For those choosing medical abortion, we provided self-administered medications to eligible women with pregnancies under 12 weeks’ gestation.

Aims – To assess adherence to the recommended abortion drug regimen, with particular focus on the number of misoprostol doses used and the interval between mifepristone and misoprostol administration and the induction–expulsion interval. Additionally, to evaluate use of analgesia, anti-emetics and antibiotics, and the side effects, pain and bleeding profile of medical abortion at home.

Methods – We conducted a prospective cohort study of 663 women choosing medical abortion at home via telemedicine at an NHS abortion service in Edinburgh, Scotland between 1 April and 9 July 2020. Interviewer-administered questionnaires were completed at telephone follow-up 4 and 14 days following treatment. Outcome measures were self-reported and included use of mifepristone and misoprostol, induction–expulsion interval (time from misoprostol administration until expulsion of pregnancy), anti-emetics, antibiotics, analgesia use, pain scores, rates of side effects, bleeding and preparedness for treatment.

Results – Among the respondents, 652/663 women (98%) answered at least one questionnaire, and 594/663 (89.6%) used both abortion medications as directed (24–72 hours between medications). The mean (SD) induction–expulsion interval was 4.3 (4.3) hours. Anti-emetics were used by 611/663 (92%), 383/599 (64%) completed the course of prophylactic antibiotics, and 616/663 (93%) used analgesia, with mean (SD) worst-pain scores of 6.7 (2.2) out of 10. Regarding side effects, 510/663 (77%) experienced either nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or headache, 101/663 (15%) experienced headache and 510/663 (77%) experienced bleeding that was heavier than a period; 554/663, (84%) felt prepared for their treatment by teleconsultation.

Conclusion – Patients are able to correctly self-administer abortion medications following a telemedicine consultation. Further research is required to optimise pain management and gastrointestinal side effects during medical abortion.


An observational study of patient experiences with a direct-to-patient telehealth abortion model in Australia 

by Terri-Ann Thompson, Jane W Seymour, Catriona Melville, Zara Khan, Danielle Mazza, Daniel Grossman

BMJ-SRH, 16 September 2021

Background – While abortion care is widely legal in Australia, access to care is often poor. Many Australians must travel long distances or interstate to access abortion care, while others face stigma when seeking care. Telehealth-at-home medical abortion is a potential solution to these challenges. In this study, we compared the experience of accessing an abortion via telehealth-at-home to accessing care in-clinic.

Methods – Over a 20-month period, we surveyed patients who received medical abortion services at Marie Stopes Australia via the telehealth-at-home service or in-clinic. We conducted bivariate analyses to assess differences in reported acceptability and accessibility by delivery model.

Results – In total, 389 patients were included in the study: 216 who received medical abortion services in-clinic and 173 through the telehealth-at-home service. Telehealth-at-home and in-clinic patients reported similarly high levels of acceptability: satisfaction with the service (82% vs 82%), provider interaction (93% vs 84%), and recommending the service to a friend (73% vs 72%). Only 1% of telehealth-at-home patients reported that they would have preferred to be in the same room as the provider. While median time between discovering the pregnancy to first contact with a clinic was similar between groups, median time from first contact to taking the first abortion medication was 7 days longer for telehealth-at-home patients versus in-clinic patients (14 days (IQR 9–21) vs 7 days (IQR 4–14); p<0.01).

Conclusion – The telehealth-at-home medical abortion service has the potential to address some of the challenges with provision of abortion care in Australia.