Can Telemedicine Go Too Far?

Can Telemedicine Go Too Far?

Telemedicine has increased in popularity with the advent of the digital age. Patients, physicians, nurses, and medical staff are able to communicate with each other in an instant no matter where they are in the world as long as they have an internet connection. For example, Doctors Without Borders has provided a platform in which physicians from countries such as Niger and South Sudan can relay questions to their network of 280 physicians from around the world. Telemedicine is able to provide the resources to those who need it as well as potentially standardize patient care around the world. In 2015, there were approximately 1 million virtual doctor visits in the U.S. This number was projected to grow to 1.2 million in 2016 with increase in telemedicine implementation in hospitals and telemedicine benefits offered by employers [1].

A survey conducted by the American Telemedicine Association and WEGO Health in 2016 revealed a strong demand for telemedicine by consumers with convenience as the top motivator. With reduced travel, costs, and increased accessibility, telemedicine makes travel to the doctor’s office less of a hassle especially for those who are disabled [2]. The market is meeting these demands with companies such as CareClix and Teladoc for general doctor’s visits to Smile Direct Club and Candid Co. for at-home teeth straightening. Although there are many benefits to telemedicine, its critics argue that it is not suitable for all cases and not necessarily offered by all providers [3]. More invasive procedures such as at home teeth straightening can fail due to user error and with no guarantee of a consultation with an orthodontist [4].

But can telemedicine go too far? This is the question lingering over a fairly new tele-abortion service that has been studied in several countries including Australia, Canada and the United States. Abortion pills are mailed to women’s homes after consultation with a physician or other health care provider via phone or the internet [5]. Eligible women are 8-10 weeks pregnant at the time of their consult [6][8]. In both studies in the United States and Australia, the women were given two sets of pills: Mifeprex (also known as mifepristone) and misopristol [7][8], which are the same medications used in abortion clinics [9].

Women then take each set of pills separately and after the second set has been administered the abortion process takes 3-8 hours to occur [8]. In both studies, most women reported no complications or side effects from the procedure.

The immediate benefits of tele-abortion are privacy, increased accessibility, and increased affordability. Women do not have to face the stigma of going through an abortion in the public eye. For those who are limited by geographic distance from quality healthcare or an abortion clinic, this service provides a means for them to carry out a safe abortion at home. International organizations have made this service available to women in countries where abortion is either unavailable or heavily restricted. Abortion in and of itself is still a polarizing topic. Many are worried about the possible widespread distribution of the drug, which could lead to possible misuse of it [5].

Telemedicine has huge potential in delivering affordable and convenient healthcare to society. Current technology allows for people to be connected in an instant to physicians and other healthcare professionals and is increasing the flexibility in which healthcare is administered. But the extent to which it can go is something that is still being explored. This poses questions such as: “How much can we empower patients until it becomes unsafe and threatening to their health?” and many more that will affect healthcare delivery in the future.


  1. Beck, Melinda. “How Telemedicine is Transforming Healthcare.” The Wall Street Journal, 26 June 2016.
  2. Washington, Jessica. “Survey Reveals Strong Demand for Telehealth Despite Access and Cost Confusion.” American Telemedicine Association, n.d.
  3. Family Health Team. “Have You Tried Telemedicine? 7 Pros and Cons.” Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials, 23 Sept 2016.
  4. Reynolds, Dr. Jamie. “What you should know about tooth-straightening aligners.” Daily News Contributor, 06 Apr 2017.
  5. Galewitz, Phil. “Abortion pills by mail studied in four states.” CNN, 16 Nov 2016.
  6. “Medical abortion by phone (tele-abortion).” Marie Stopes Australia, accessed 22 May 2018.
  7. Aubusson, Kate. “Tabbot Foundation telephone abortion service is safe and effective, review finds.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 04 Apr 2017.
  8. Richardson, Mahealani. “Hawaii joins ‘tele-abortion’ pilot amid debate about procedure’s safety.” Hawaii News Now, 03 Jan 2018.
  9. “The Abortion Pill.” Planned Parenthood, accessed 22 May 2018.
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