September 2021

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

Thompson T-A, Seymour JW, Melville C, Khan Z,  Mazza D, Grossman D. An observational study of patient experiences with a direct-to-patient telehealth abortion model in Australia. BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health. September 2021. DOI: 10.1136/bmjsrh-2021-201259

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.