May 2020

Virtually possible: Using telehealth to bring reproductive health care to women with opioid use disorder in rural Maine

Thompson T-A, Ahrens K, Coplon L. Virtually possible: Using telehealth to bring reproductive health care to women with opioid use disorder in rural Maine. mHealth. May 2020. doi: 10.21037/mhealth-19-237

Background: Maternal opioid use disorder (OUD) has increased more sharply in recent years among rural residents in the United States than among urban residents. In 2018, the prevalence of maternal OUD accounted for 3.5% of all hospital deliveries in Maine. Opioid use during pregnancy is associated with negative health effects for both the woman and infant. While many women with OUD use contraception, few report using a highly reliable method.

Methods: A family planning clinic in Maine piloted a program to increase reproductive health access for women with OUD through the use of telehealth. In this model, a community outreach educator travelled to a community organization that serves this population to provide reproductive health information and an opportunity to connect with a nurse practitioner via telehealth to receive the following reproductive health services: HIV counseling and testing, contraception, or pregnancy testing and counseling. We assessed the feasibility of this program through the following outcome measures: number of women who engaged with the community outreach educator, number of women who used telehealth services, and number of women who received services at a referred clinic during the six-month pilot.

Results: During the pilot program, the community outreach educator held eighteen educational sessions and engaged fifty-one women; providing condoms and/or answers to various reproductive health questions. Fifteen women used telehealth services. The majority used the service to receive testing for sexually transmitted infections (STI) such as HIV. Four women used telehealth for contraceptive services and received either birth control or the Depo-Provera injectable on-site. A third of the women received more than one reproductive health service via telehealth. Of the women who were referred to a family planning clinic for additional services, only 2 attended their appointment. No challenges with hearing or seeing the practitioner through the video platform were recorded.

Conclusions: Improving women’s access to effective contraceptive methods and preventive reproductive health services is critical to ensuring women with OUD are able to seek effective treatment and to ensure the health of future pregnancies. Findings from this pilot program suggest that innovative health care models such as on-site provision of reproductive health care through telehealth have the potential to increase access to reproductive care for this hard-to-reach population.