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Greasing the wheels: The impact of COVID-19 on US physician attitudes and practices regarding medication abortion.

  • Author(s): Karlin, Jennifer;
  • Sarnaik, Shashi;
  • Holt, Kelsey;
  • Dehlendorf, Christine;
  • Joffe, Carole;
  • Steinauer, Jody
  • et al.
Abstract

Objective

To explore US provider perspectives about self-sourced medication abortion and how their attitudes and clinic practices changed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Study design

We conducted a multi-method study of survey and interview data. We performed 40 baseline interviews and surveys in spring 2019 and 36 follow-up surveys and ten interviews one year later. We compared pre- and post-Likert scale responses of provider views on the importance of different aspects of standard medication abortion assessment and evaluation (e.g., related to ultrasounds and blood-typing). We performed content analysis of the follow-up interviews using deductive-inductive analysis.

Results

Survey results revealed that clinics substantially changed their medication abortion protocols in response to COVID-19, with more than half increasing their gestational age limits and introducing telemedicine for follow-up of a medication abortion. Interview analysis suggested that physicians were more supportive of self-sourced medication abortion in response to changing clinic protocols that decreased in-clinic assessment and evaluation for medication abortion, and as a result of physicians' altered assessments of risk in the context of COVID-19. Having evidence already in place that supported these practice changes made the implementation of new protocols more efficient, while working in a state with restrictive abortion policies thwarted the flexibility of clinics to adapt to changes in standards of care.

Conclusion

This exploratory study reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic has altered clinical assessment of risk and has shifted practice towards a less medicalized model. Further work to facilitate person-centered abortion information and care can build on initial modifications in response to the pandemic.

Implications

COVID-19 has shifted clinician perception of risk and has catalyzed a change in clinical protocols for medication abortion. However, state laws and policies that regulate medication abortion limit physician ability to respond to changes in risk assessment.

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