Patient experiences of undergoing abortion with and without an ultrasound scan in Britain

Blaylock, Rebecca; Lohr, Patricia A; Hoggart, Lesley and Lowe, Pam (2024). Patient experiences of undergoing abortion with and without an ultrasound scan in Britain. BMJ sexual & reproductive health (early access).



Background: Routine ultrasound scanning to determine gestational age and pregnancy location has long been part of pre-abortion assessment in Britain, despite not being legally required or recommended in national clinical guidelines. To support implementation of fully telemedical abortion care (implemented in Britain in April 2020), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) issued clinical guidance for an 'as-indicated' approach to pre-abortion ultrasound, removing the need for a clinic visit. We aimed to understand patient experiences of ultrasound in abortion care by conducting a qualitative study with individuals who had abortions with and without an ultrasound scan.

Methods: Between November 2021 and July 2022, we recruited patients who had a medical abortion at home without a pre-procedure ultrasound at 69 days' gestation or less at British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), and also had at least one other abortion with an ultrasound from any provider in Britain. We conducted interviews using a semi-structured interview guide to explore our participants' experiences and conducted reflexive thematic analysis.

Results: We recruited 24 participants and included 19 interviews in our analysis. We developed three themes from our data. These were 'Ultrasound scans and their relationship with autonomy and decision-making', 'Intrusive and out of place: the ultrasound as an inappropriate technology' and 'Towards preference-centred, quality care'.

Conclusions: Further research and user-testing of strategies to improve the scan experience should be undertaken. Patient testimonies on the negative impact of ultrasound scans in abortion care should reassure providers that omitting them according to patient preference is a positive step towards providing patient-centred care.

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