Telecare can complement, not replace in-person pregnancy help

Pregnancy help advocates discuss their experience with telecare as part of a Human Coalition workshop presented at the 2024 Heartbeat International Annual Pregnancy Help Conference

“Telecare is essentially the same thing that happens in the pregnancy center counseling room, but happening over the phone,” according to Rachel Lane, Vice President of Family Services at Human Coalition. Lane presented her insights on telecare to an audience attending the “United for Life” Heartbeat Conference last month in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“We’ve found it is the most effective method of reaching women who have challenges and barriers preventing her from easily making it into a center,” Lane said. “We can now get them critical care by providing that counselling immediately over the phone.”

Presenting with Lane was Stephanie Coleman, regional director of Clinic Services with Human Coalition. Coleman said women’s barriers to accessing in-person pregnancy help included distance, time, money, confidentiality concerns, and knowing a pregnancy center doesn’t offer abortion. Telecare is proving to overcome these barriers.

“We found that more than 50% of women considering abortion that we could reach with our marketing efforts were never making it into a physical pregnancy center,” Lane said. “This meant that we did not get the opportunity to provide her with the truth about abortion, and we were not okay with that.”

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Data like the above prompted Human Coalition’s venture into telecare. The organization operates seven “lab-driven” departments that continually test and optimize their practices to more effectively serve women in the “abortion-dense cities” in which they work.

“For us, telecare was the result of problem-solving for how we could get more moms the truth about abortion, so we can rescue more lives,” Lane said. “Our hope was that out of that we could support pregnancy centers across the country by referring moms to them for in-person care and face-to-face counseling.”

Virtual before virtual was common

Human Coalition launched their telecare system in 2018, giving them two years to refine their processes before their partner centers were hit by Covid restrictions.

“We were able to transition every single center we had into a fully operational telecare pregnancy center,” Lane said. “By Monday morning, all of our nurses were online and ready to counsel moms seeking an abortion.”

In the Human Coalition telecare system, a woman who calls a contact center reaches an agent who takes basic intake information, then transfers her directly to a nurse for immediate counseling. At the end of this first call, the woman can be connected to a social worker and given a referral to a pregnancy center for in-person care.

“Once arriving at the pregnancy center, she receives the traditional pregnancy center experience: she gets in-person counseling, a pregnancy test, and an ultrasound,” Lane said. “She’s also eligible to participate in any other programs the center offers.”

“Virtual first” pregnancy help: an expected reality

“We must face the reality that the abortion pill is now being distributed virtually and every mailbox now has the potential to become an abortion clinic,” Coleman said. She also pointed out that virtual interactions have become an expected norm for the women of today.

With abortion providers telling a woman that she doesn’t need in-person care, she is not likely to make an appointment with a pregnancy center if barriers like transportation, time, and money stand in her way. Lane said Human Coalition’s results show that telecare bridges over her barriers by building relationships over the phone first.

“Telecare helped us to establish enough trust to overcome common hurdles… because a relationship had been established,” she said. “She was able to talk to a nurse in the safety of her own place, on the phone: in her home, in her car, or wherever she felt safe.

“And we have the opportunity to educate her about the abortion pill, reveal the truth about the tragedy of abortion, even expose her to life-affirming options and resources,” said Lane. “So even though she knew that we didn’t provide abortion, we were able to show that we care about her and love her.

“When she was ready, she was now willing to overcome the barriers that previously would have prevented her from coming into the center,” Lane said.

Even for moms who still don’t want to visit a pregnancy center, telecare can provide the intervention they need to save their babies’ lives, Coleman added.

“We have found that 40% of our life decisions now come from moms that only experience telecare and never walk into a physical clinic,” she said.

Telecare + in-person care: better together

“While telecare has resulted in many life decisions, we’ve found over the years a dual approach is most effective—both telecare and in-person counseling,” Lane said. “When using both telecare and in-clinic appointments, where the patient can be given a pregnancy test and an ultrasound, the chances of a life decision increased by over 50%.”

Client feedback indicates that “telecare is priming her for her in-person visit.” In a recorded conversation with a partnering pregnancy center, the staff there said, “It’s almost like surgery prep; they are prepped [by the telecare call] and then we get to come in and do what we do.”

Pregnancy center staff reported that women became calmer and more confident as they heard the same life-affirming messages from the telecare nurse, then by phone from the center, and again when they came in for medical services. Their initial anxiety lessened as they had time to process the reiterated message of hope, care, and support.

Lane and Coleman discussed challenges which centers might face in implementing telecare. They also addressed training considerations and scripting guidelines that could be adapted for each center’s context.

To staff telecare within a center, they said the current team can be trained to provide this service. They also suggested making use of other personnel who might be available outside of regular business hours.

“Telecare is better than nothing,” Lane said. “Nothing is what you get when someone doesn’t show up to your center. Nothing is what you get when you don’t have an answer to the abortion pill strategy. Nothing is what you get when she walks into the abortion clinic instead of yours.”

“Moms go from holding abortion pills in their hands to choosing life every day,” she said. “Telecare allows us to reach them and get them into counseling on their terms, in their comfort zone.”

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Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News.

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