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US reproductive health group introduces telemedicine abortions in Kansas

Planned Parenthood has begun offering telemedicine consultations to patients visiting its clinic in Wichita

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The reproductive health nonprofit group Planned Parenthood has started conducting telehealth consultations for medication abortions in Kansas.

A Planned Parenthood affiliate has announced that the group has started teleconferences with off-site doctors for patients seeking medication abortions at one of its Kansas clinics, a small step toward potentially much broader access in a state that has become a destination for the procedure after an August vote affirming abortion rights.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains said it began offering telemedicine consultations to patients visiting its Wichita clinic.

President and CEO, Emily Wales, said the immediate goal is to have more days that patients can go there to get medication abortions.

She said her affiliate hopes to offer the service to patients visiting its other two clinics on the Kansas side of the Kansas City area “in short order” and eventually, to allow patients in doctors’ offices and clinics across the state to teleconference with its physicians.

The move comes as Kansas abortion providers say they are seeing a flood of requests for appointments from women in states with tougher abortion rules, after in August Kansas voters voted to retain state constitutional protections for abortion rights.

The announcement also came less than a month after a state-court judge blocked enforcement of Kansas’ ban on telemedicine abortions.

The abortionfinder.org website lists 26 other states in which residents seeking abortion medications can teleconference with doctors, including Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wyoming. However, for some states, the website lists only online pill providers, such as Aid Access or carafem.

Ahead of this week’s announcement, Wales said: “My vision for telehealth medication abortion is the same as my vision for abortion generally, which is that it would be widely accessible by many providers.”

The blocked Kansas law required a doctor to be in the same room with a patient taking what is typically the first of two doses of medication to end a pregnancy.

Another provider, a Wichita clinic operated by the abortion rights group Trust Women, offered telemedicine abortions for a few months late in 2018 but stopped because the legal climate was uncertain at the time.

Trust Women also expects to offer telemedicine abortions but has said it is considering what additional staff and infrastructure it will need.

Eighteen states have bans on telemedicine abortions in place, according to national groups on both sides of the debate, including Arizona, Indiana, Nebraska and North Carolina.

Kansans for Life, the state’s most anti-abortion group, responded to what it called Planned Parenthood’s “dark announcement” by promising to consider “every possible course of action,” including legislation.

Abortion opponents have long argued that telemedicine bans protect women’s health by ensuring a physician is present to deal with major problems, though research has shown that abortion pills are safe.

The long-term goal, Wales said, is to work with a network of doctors or clinics across the state so that women don’t have to travel to Wichita or the Kansas City area to obtain abortion medications.

Patients in states with more restrictive abortion laws still would have to travel to Kansas, as they do now. Doctors doing the teleconsulting also would have to be licensed to practice medicine in Kansas, as they must be now.

For now, Planned Parenthood Great Plains is using existing staff and physicians to offer telemedicine abortion consultations to patients in Wichita.

The Planned Parenthood affiliate already offers some telehealth services, such as refilling birth control prescriptions or gender-affirming care visits for transgender patients.

The group said it is still deciding how quickly to expand telemedicine abortion appointments.

Abortion providers had to wait until this year for a clearer picture of the legality of telemedicine abortions.

The statewide vote in August preserved a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in April 2019 that access to abortion is a “fundamental” right under the state constitution.

The vote came as Trust Women was pursuing a lawsuit to against the state’s ban on telemedicine abortions. That lawsuit led to the state-court judge’s order blocking enforcement of the Kansas telemedicine abortion ban.

Erin Thompson, Planned Parenthood Great Plains’ general counsel, said: “We’re pretty confident that the courts are on our side and that we have a very strong legal leg to stand on.”

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‘Groundbreaking’ endometriosis study identifies patient priorities

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A “groundbreaking” study into endometriosis has identified three areas for future research that can help improve the outcomes for women with the condition.

The study, commissioned by Endometriosis New Zealand, attracted 1,262 participants, including 1,024 people with confirmed endometriosis, making it the largest ever study involving endometriosis patients and supporters in New Zealand.

Study participants identified the management and treatment of endometriosis, the need for a better understanding of its cause and improvements to diagnostic capability as the three main priorities for further research.

While these findings provide a clear pathway for future work, Endometriosis New Zealand chief executive, Tanya Cooke, said endometriosis research had historically been underfunded.

“With an estimated 120,000 New Zealanders living with endometriosis, much more needs to be invested into finding solutions,” Cooke explained.

“The reality is the outcomes for many endometriosis patients are pretty poor, with diagnosis often taking many years and treatment patchy across the country.”

Estimates based on Australian data suggest that endometriosis is likely to be costing New Zealand somewhere in the range of $1.3-1.5bn annually through increased healthcare costs and lost workforce productivity.

Cooke said: “The good news is that our findings align closely with those in Australia and provide three clear priorities for future research – improved treatment options, causation and better diagnostic capability.

“What New Zealand now requires is proper funding for a future research programme that can investigate these priorities more closely and improve the outcomes for individuals living with endometriosis.”

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Virtual care platform secures US$46m to address US maternal health crisis

Pomelo Care will use the funding to scale its care model and improve maternal and infant outcomes

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Marta Bralic Kerns, founder and CEO of Pomelo Care

The US virtual maternity care platform Pomelo Care has secured US$46m in funding to address the US maternal health crisis.

One in 10 babies born in the US today start their life in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Healthcare access continues to worsen, with one in eight births occurring in US counties with limited-to-no access to maternal care. Due to significant gaps in postpartum care, about half of pregnancy-related deaths in the US occur after hospital discharge.

The evidence exists for how to identify people at highest risk for complications and which interventions are most effective, but existing data gaps and provider capacity challenges make it difficult to apply these interventions at scale.

Pomelo has developed a care model that aims to address these challenges by analysing claims and health record data to identify individual risk factors and providing virtual pregnancy, postpartum, and infant care to patients to reduce those risks.

“We’ve long known what works to reduce maternal and infant complications,” said Marta Bralic Kerns, founder and CEO of Pomelo Care.

“The questions have always been: can you identify the patients who are at highest risk, can you deeply engage them in care to drive uptake of the prevention strategies we know work, and can you do it in the highest risk populations with the most limited access to care?”

“This data demonstrates that we absolutely can. And with this additional funding, we’ll have the opportunity to scale our care model to more pregnant people across the country.”

The funding, led by existing investors First Round Capital and Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) Bio + Health, is hoped to help Pomelo accelerate its partnerships with payors across the US and increase access to “evidence-based” care.

Josh Kopelman, partner at First Round Capital and Pomelo board member, said: “It’s rare to come across an opportunity where the incentives between patient, provider and payor are all aligned.

“Marta and the Pomelo team have found an incredible opportunity to dramatically improve outcomes for the highest risk populations, while helping payors reduce their avoidable costs.”

Vineeta Agarwala, general partner at a16z Bio + Health and Pomelo board member, added: “Pomelo is one among a small set of health tech companies that have earned true scale.

“This scale is evident in our partnerships with major Medicaid and commercial plans covering over three million lives, which create the opportunity to collaborate with OB providers, labour and delivery wards, and NICUs nationwide, while serving hundreds of thousands of expecting mothers and newborns with high quality, technology-enabled care.”

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One in three UK fertility patients seek treatment abroad due to high costs

Expensive fertility treatments prompt UK patients to seek help abroad

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One in three fertility patients in the UK seek treatment abroad due to high costs, a new survey has shown.

Fertility Family has gathered insights from 429 UK participants who have experienced difficulties with infertility.

The Infertility Awareness Report found that the high cost of fertility treatment in the UK has driven over one in four people to spend over £10,000 on both treatments and investigative procedures.

The research showed around 35 per cent of people struggling with infertility have considered seeking fertility treatment abroad due to the prospect of lower costs.

Of those seeking fertility treatment in a foreign country, however, only 14 per cent believed that clinics abroad have a higher success rate.

Of those actively trying to conceive almost one in five have used their life savings in the pursuit of having a child, whilst 25 per cent have paid for their fertility treatments using a credit card.

Dr Gill Lockwood, consultant at Fertility Family, said: “While we tend to cast our gaze on women when it comes to infertility, case studies have shown that infertility can impact both women and men in similar ways. However, women have been observed to seek help more than men.

“Although the psychological struggles of infertility can be overwhelming, many patients ultimately reach some type of resolution. Some of the alternatives include becoming parents to a relative’s children, adopting children, or deciding to adopt a child-free lifestyle.

“Needless to say, this resolution is usually psychologically demanding, and patients may feel forever impacted by the experience of infertility.”

A combination of fertility struggles and accessible healthcare have impacted people across the UK significantly, with one in two admitting to feeling “ashamed” due to their difficulties trying to conceive.

A further 31 per cent reported feeling that other people think “less” of them due to their fertility struggles, showcasing the need for better mental health support.

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