Telemedicine is a great advancement, especially for people who live in rural communities or who are disabled and cannot regularly travel to a doctor’s office. Telemedicine patients often have monitoring centers in their homes that transmit information about their weight, vital signs, blood glucose, and blood pressure to medical professionals elsewhere. In Iowa and Minnesota, telemedicine has even been used to administer abortion-inducing drugs to patients.
In 2013, the Iowa Board of Medicine made it a requirement for a doctor to be present during medically-induced abortions. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit, stating that this limited patients’ access to abortions. The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments for and against telemedicine abortions Wednesday.
During a telemedicine abortion, a consultation is performed between physician and patient via videoconferencing. A nurse or physician’s assistant will perform a medical examination and administer the medication, which is kept in a remote-controlled drawer.
“Regardless of the outcome of this case, abortions are a sensitive topic for everyone,” said Josh Kaywood, director of business development for WeCounsel. “Those in telemedicine hope the result doesn’t negatively impact the industry as a whole because it is a promising field and increases the level of care for everyone across the US. Telemedicine use is on the rise and is looking to be very beneficial to the future of medicine in general.”
Many of the arguments center on standards of care, and whether or not telemedicine abortion is safe. Planned Parenthood is also arguing that banning telemedicine abortion is unconstitutional.
Nathaniel Lacktman, partner with Foley and Lardner, thinks the issue is bigger than just abortions.
“If the court rules against Planned Parenthood, it may cause other states to look at their state boards of medicine as the vehicle for greater influence on telemedicine, especially for [using] it for abortions,” Lacktman told HealthcareDive.com. “It could open the door to people exploring it as an opportunity to achieve some of their political ends in a way that may be quicker or easier than the full-on legislative process of their state.”
The Iowa Supreme Court is not expected to reach a decision for several months. Until then, telemedicine abortions will be performed in the state of Iowa.