Adherence to treatment and prevalence of side effects when medical abortion is delivered via telemedicine: a prospective observational cohort study during COVID-19

John Joseph Reynolds-Wright, Anne Johnstone, Karen McCabe, Emily Evans, Sharon Cameron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

BACKGROUND: The Scottish government introduced legislation during the COVID-19 outbreak to permit medical abortion at home with telemedicine. All women received an initial telephone consultation. For those choosing medical abortion, we provided self-administered medications to eligible women with pregnancies under 12 weeks' gestation. AIMS: To assess adherence to the recommended abortion drug regimen, with particular focus on the number of misoprostol doses used and the interval between mifepristone and misoprostol administration and the induction-expulsion interval. Additionally, to evaluate use of analgesia, antiemetics and antibiotics, and the side effects, pain and bleeding profile of medical abortion at home. METHODS: We conducted a prospective cohort study of 663 women choosing medical abortion at home via telemedicine at an NHS abortion service in Edinburgh, Scotland between 1 April and 9 July 2020. Interviewer-administered questionnaires were completed at telephone follow-up 4 and 14 days following treatment. Outcome measures were self-reported and included use of mifepristone and misoprostol, induction-expulsion interval (time from misoprostol administration until expulsion of pregnancy), antiemetics, antibiotics, analgesia use, pain scores, rates of side effects, bleeding and preparedness for treatment. RESULTS: Among the respondents, 652/663 women (98%) answered at least one questionnaire, and 594/663 (89.6%) used both abortion medications as directed (24-72 hours between medications). The mean (SD) induction-expulsion interval was 4.3 (4.3) hours. Antiemetics were used by 611/663 (92%), 383/599 (64%) completed the course of prophylactic antibiotics, and 616/663 (93%) used analgesia, with mean (SD) worst-pain scores of 6.7 (2.2) out of 10. Regarding side effects, 510/663 (77%) experienced either nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or headache, 101/663 (15%) experienced headache and 510/663 (77%) experienced bleeding that was heavier than a period; 554/663, (84%) felt prepared for their treatment by teleconsultation. CONCLUSION: Patients are able to correctly self-administer abortion medications following a telemedicine consultation. Further research is required to optimise pain management and gastrointestinal side effects during medical abortion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-192
Number of pages8
JournalBMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • abortion
  • COVID-19
  • health services research
  • mifepristone
  • patient safety
  • reproductive health
  • therapeutic


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