Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Abortion via Teleconference:
Is Texas the New Frontier?

Texas abortion providers (clinics only) Clinic info, NAF. Map, HTHSIT.

An article in today's Times about Iowa Planned Parenthood physicians providing medication abortion services via teleconference to women unable or unwilling to travel to the city to a clinic got me thinking about Texas, which has more than 3 million residents considered "medically underserved" because they are so far from any healthcare provider, much less an abortion provider.

Turns out I'm not the only one thinking about how videoconferencing could help doctors treat patients too far away to come to the doctor's office. Both Texas Tech and UTMB have Telemedicine programs. According to Texas Tech's Telemedicine website:

Telemedicine electronically transports primary and specialty medical care into the most remote areas. Persons who live hours from advanced medical care, or even from basic medical services, can directly access high quality medical expertise without leaving their communities.
This description of Texas Tech's rural telemedicine program shows that they are focused on providing services to patients that can't get to a doctor--and, presumably, aren't in an emergency situation where they must get to a hospital ASAP. Sounds like most abortion circumstances, which are rarely medical emergencies.

Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin all have plenty of abortion providers, both private and not-for-profit, but Texas is a big state and plenty of women find themselves in need of an abortion and unable to get to the city.

The Texas Tribune did a series earlier this year, No Country For Health Care, and revealed the following:

Sixty-three Texas counties have no hospital. Twenty-seven counties have no primary care physicians, and 16 have only one. Routine medical care is often more than 60 miles away — and specialty care is almost unheard of. Most of Texas’ 177 rural counties, home to more than 3 million people, are considered medically underserved.
Women seeking an abortion in Texas can already document their "24 hour waiting period" with a phone consultation and can download the mandatory disclosure from a clinic's website. Why couldn't they have a video consultation with a provider and just get the drugs at the pharmacy or by mail?

According to the American Telemedicine Association Texas profile, Texas law requires that insurance plans cover telemedicine, so in theory if a woman's insurance plan covers abortion services (as many do) she ought to be able to get an abortion that way.

Of course the nutty Abby Johnson, former director of Bryan, Texas's (read: Texas A & M)Planned Parenthood clinic-turned-insane anti-abortion activist, is ringing the alarm bell about "telemed" abortions because Texas women could really benefit from this service. But, hey, we haven't paid any attention to her yet.

Sounds to me that, for now, telemed abortion in Texas is legal. For now.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Julie,

    I just discovered your blog and love it beyond belief. I am a clinic worker here in Austin, and we have been doing telemed abortions for MIFE (the abortion pill) for about 6 months. Just to let you know, it is indeed happening in Texas, if not at too many locations yet.