Telehealth and Abortion: What Women Need to Know
The coronavirus pandemic has introduced us to new ways of treating medical concerns as they arise. COVID-19 has opened new doors to assessment and treatment of emerging health concerns. Telemedicine, sometimes called telehealth, is a new and emerging way that medical professionals can “see” patients and assess their situation.
One of the most recent trends that has been brought to the forefront is women seeking medical abortions, and specifically the abortion pill, through a telehealth consultation. As with most new technology, there is much confusion about pregnancy consultations and treatment via telehealth. Here are a few basic things to understand:
What is telehealth/telemedicine?
As a general definition, telehealth or telemedicine (sometimes spelled tele-health, tele-medicine) is talking to your doctor or nurse via video call instead of making an in-person visit. This practice is not risky in and of itself, and is actually a convenient and safe starting point for a medical issue, especially in light of COVID-19. At AbbaCare, we offer a telehealth option as a first step in pregnancy options consultation. However, there are limitations as to what advice and treatment medical professionals can safely give on a telehealth call, and abortion options are one of those limited areas.
What is telehealth abortion?
A telehealth abortion, or telehealth abortion consultation, refers to having a video-based conference call with a medical professional in relation to the termination of a pregnancy. Because the practice of discussing abortion options via telemedicine is so new, there is a great deal of conflicting information on the internet regarding what a physician or other health professional can or can’t provide in terms of abortion information and procedures via telehealth. Because of the untested nature of this practice, it is recommended that women seeking abortion options be seen in person by a licensed medical professional prior to undergoing any abortion procedures.
Why is it so important to be seem by a medical professional in person before an abortion is performed? Can’t a doctor just send the abortion pill in the mail or write a prescription?
Abortion of any kind, including the abortion pill, is a medical procedure. It is important for the medical professional to be able to fully evaluate a woman’s current health (including the possible presence of STI/STD’s – read more here.) through an in-person visit.
Further, an ultrasound needs to be performed to definitively determine the gestational age of the pregnancy, because some abortion procedures are based on how far a woman is into her pregnancy. And because the date of the last menstrual period is very often an inaccurate assessment of gestational age, proceeding with an abortion without an ultrasound can be very dangerous for the woman.
An example of this is a medical abortion (also known the abortion pill or Plan C abortion) which is only recommended for pregnancies up to 10 weeks. Based on a woman’s last period, she may believe she is only 6-8 weeks along in her pregnancy, but an ultrasound shows that she is actually 13 weeks along. Had she continued with a medical abortion via the abortion pill, the health ramifications could have been significant.
An ultrasound is also imperative because a woman should be assessed for an ectopic pregnancy. This is a life threatening situation in which the pregnancy is actually outside of the uterus and requires emergency treatment. Abortion procedures conducted when the pregnancy is ectopic can have devastating consequences, but an ultrasound can easily rule out an ectopic pregnancy, empowering the woman to know more clearly what her options are.
Lastly, it is important to be seen in person by a doctor so that a thorough medical history can be obtained. It is difficult for doctors (and patients) to fully communicate all those details over a video call and therefore the medical professional can easily miss an important risk factor. For instance, the abortion pill should not be used on patients with some blood disorders, on certain medications, or with allergies to medications. The best way to discuss all the risk factors is in a private, confidential in person visit.
At AbbaCare, we offer a full, in-person consultation to discuss all your options as well as assessing risk factors. We offer STI/STD testing and treatment for pregnancy clients and their partners, and a diagnostic ultrasound to definitively determine gestational age and to rule out ectopic pregnancy. All of our services are free, confidential, and offered in a safe, welcoming, non-judgmental environment. Please call today to schedule your first consultation in Winchester (540.665.9660) or Martinsburg (304.726.6582).
Still not sure about coming in person? We do offer telehealth consultations as a first step. Click here to ask about that option.
(Not in our area? Click here to find a pregnancy resource center near you.)
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