Iowa Debates Planned Parenthood Videoconferencing System
By Michelle Nicolson
TMCnet Contributing Writer
The Iowa Board of Medicine is set to hold a hearing on a first-of-its-kind videoconferencing system that will dispense abortion pills to women in rural areas. The videoconferencing system, which will be operated by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, enables doctors in Des Moines to interact with patients in rural clinics via closed-circuit video.
Nurses at the rural clinics will perform the patient’s medical tests, which include blood tests, a medical history, an exam, an ultrasound and counseling on matters like what to expect from the procedure and plans for a follow-up exam. The doctor reviews this information as part of the consultation.
If the patient qualifies, the doctor can enter a command via a computer that will open a drawer in front of the patient in the rural clinic. The doctor will watch the patient take the first pill, and then the patient will bring the other pills home to take at designated times. The pills, which contain a drug called mifepristone, induce miscarriages.
The system is not without controversy. Supporters of the system say videoconferencing is a safe way for women in rural areas to receive early-term abortions when no other local clinics provide them. Opponents of the system say woman are exposed to potentially dangerous drugs and their potential side effects without having a doctor readily available to help them.
The ability to provide medical services by videoconference, known as telemedicine, has expanded rapidly in many fields. However, the system in Iowa is the first system that would provide access to abortion pills this way.
Videoconferencing is commonly used for diagnosis, consulting, transmission of medical images and other applications. The technology also has been used to connect patients with nurses and physicians as well as to link physicians and other medical professionals across large distances.
Edited by Alisen Downey