Before the start of the videoconference, a patient from a remote clinic meets (in person) with a nurse. There, blood tests, medical history, examination, ultrasound, and advice on issues such as what to expect from the procedure and plans for a follow-up exam are completed. The results are shared (by computer) with a doctor miles away, and the doctor and the patient (still accompanied by the nurse, seated next to her) meet by videoconference over a private network.
“I don’t feel like anything is lost or missing,” said Dr. Tom Ross, one of Planned Parenthood’s doctors.
Dr Ross said he talks to patients – asking his questions and answering all of theirs – as if he were talking to them in person. In most cases, he then clicks a button which releases the drawer in front of the woman. Inside are two vials – one for mifepristone which she will take immediately, while she is still sitting in the clinic, and the other for misoprostol which she will take later.
No serious complications arose in Iowa involving these patients via videoconference. And patients, mostly, seem fine with the procedure. They have a choice: when they call for an abortion, women who live far from city clinics can either take abortion drugs in a distant office with the doctor by teleconference, or go to the doctor.
It’s unclear how long it will take the State Board of Medicine to investigate Operation Rescue’s complaint that this method does not meet the state’s requirement that licensed physicians – not nurses or others – perform abortions.
“One way or another, we’re going to end this program,” said Mr. Newman of Operation Rescue. “Health care is simply not a one-size-fits-all set of pills. And yet there it is – pre-arranged, pre-packaged, pull out that pack of pills – pop!”
About a dozen states allow medical personnel with less training than licensed physicians to perform abortions. In those places, emulating the Iowa system might have little purpose. But elsewhere, said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federationwhich represents abortion providers, those providers are watching Iowa with keen interest.