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J Fam Plann Reprod Health Care doi:10.1136/jfprhc-2011-100176
  • Articles

Using a simulated patient to assess referral for abortion services in the USA

  1. Michele R Hacker3
  1. 1Clinical Research Assistant, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA
  2. 2Division Director of Family Planning, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA; and Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
  3. 3Epidemiologist, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA; Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; and Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michele R Hacker, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 330 Brookline Avenue KS 328, Boston, MA 02215, USA; mhacker{at}bidmc.harvard.edu
  • Received 14 July 2011
  • Accepted 7 November 2011
  • Published Online First 16 January 2012

Abstract

Background Women seeking abortion services need to access services in a timely fashion. Quick and appropriate referrals to abortion providers are critical to this process.

Methods The objective of this study was to determine the quality and quantity of referrals for abortion services from reproductive health care facilities that do not provide abortion services. USA states were ranked by restrictiveness of abortion, and a simulated patient made calls to the five most and six least restrictive states. Referrals were considered direct if the name or telephone number of a facility that provided abortion services was given; indirect when Planned Parenthood was suggested without additional details; and inappropriate if the referral did not provide abortion services.

Results Of 142 calls, 77 (52.4%) were made to least restrictive states and 62 (45.8%) were made to most restrictive states. Among all calls, even after prompting staff members for a referral, 45.8% resulted in a direct referral, 19.0% resulted in an indirect referral, 8.5% resulted in an inappropriate referral and 26.8% resulted in no referral. Facilities in least restrictive states were significantly more likely to provide unprompted direct referrals (p=0.006) and significantly less likely to provide no referral (p<0.001) than facilities in most restrictive states, though these differences disappeared after prompting the staff member to provide a referral.

Conclusions A simulated patient received a direct referral for abortion services less than half the time, even after prompting a staff member to provide one. All facilities providing women's health care should have appropriate referrals readily available for patients seeking abortion services.

Footnotes

  • Funding This project was conducted with grant support from the Harvard University William F Milton Endowment.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was granted by the Committee on Clinical Investigations at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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