Objective: To compare the proportion of medical abortions with a clinically significant adverse event among telemedicine and in-person patients at a clinic system in Iowa during the first 7 years of the service.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective cohort study. We analyzed data on clinically significant adverse events (hospital admission, surgery, blood transfusion, emergency department treatment, and death) for all medical abortions performed by telemedicine or in person at a clinic system in Iowa between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2015. Data on adverse events came from required reporting forms submitted to the mifepristone distributor. We calculated the prevalence of adverse events and 95% CIs comparing telemedicine with in-person patients. The analysis was designed as a noninferiority study. Assuming the prevalence of adverse events to be 0.3%, telemedicine provision was considered to be inferior to in-person provision if the prevalence were 0.6% or higher. The required sample size was 6,984 in each group (one-sided α=0.025, power 90%). To explore whether patients with adverse events presented to emergency departments and were not reported, we conducted a survey of the 119 emergency departments in Iowa, asking whether they had treated a woman with an adverse event in the prior year.
Results: During the study period, 8,765 telemedicine and 10,405 in-person medical abortions were performed. Forty-nine clinically significant adverse events were reported (no deaths or surgery; 0.18% of telemedicine patients with any adverse event [95% CI 0.11-0.29%] and 0.32% of in-person patients [95% CI 0.23-0.45%]). The difference in adverse event prevalence was 0.13% (95% CI -0.01% to 0.28%, P=.07). Forty-two emergency departments responded to the survey (35% response rate); none reported treating a woman with an adverse event after medical abortion.
Conclusion: Adverse events are rare with medical abortion, and telemedicine provision is noninferior to in-person provision with regard to clinically significant adverse events.