Aug. 11, 2017 -- Technology is making it easier for women to get birth control without ever stepping foot inside a doctor’s office.
Several new companies along with Planned Parenthood are offering women access to birth control through apps on their smartphones or over the internet.
“Telehealth and telemedicine is really revolutionizing many aspects of medical care ... and I really see this as another extension of that,” says Daniel Grossman, MD, a professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.
Grossman says access to birth control can help prevent unintended pregnancies, as well as benefit women economically by helping them better plan when to have children.
The services help improve access for women who are in rural areas or don't live close to clinics, as well as women who can’t take time off of work or school to go to a doctor’s office to get birth control. In addition, companies like Maven and Lemonaid offer birth control along with other medical services such as treatments for acne, flu, and urinary tract infections.
“We are trying to target busy individuals -- individuals who are busy creating a career, going to school, raising a family, or chasing goals,” says Nick Chang, the founder of The Pill Club. “We want to ensure that despite the hassles of life [and getting] health care, an individual can still be able to get birth control.”
Chang says they are able to deliver prescriptions in 12 states, but due to state laws they are only able to prescribe to residents of California.
Jessica Knox, MD, medical director for the Nurx app, says they aim for younger women but that they offer services to patients from ages 14 to over 50. In addition to birth control, the Nurx app and website also fill prescriptions for HIV prevention drugs. Knox says the company also counsels patients and answers questions that might be uncomfortable for women to ask their doctors.
Those readings can take place through an app or website, Grossman says.
Grossman says there are downsides as well. You can’t get an IUD or implant online, for instance. And you won’t get recommended tests such as a pelvic exam, tests for sexually transmitted diseases, or a Pap smear if you skip the doctor’s office.
He also recommends that women educate themselves on birth control risks.
Most of the services require women to fill out a questionnaire before getting birth control, and one requires an e-visit with a doctor.
Mara Gandal-Powers, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, says state and federal laws affect how these organizations can provide and prescribe birth control. Insurance coverage also varies by state.
Under the Affordable Care Act, a woman’s insurance must cover birth control.
“They’re really fantastic for expanding people’s ability to get the prescriptions they need to get their birth control conveniently delivered to them,” Gandal-Powers says of the new services.
Before trying out these services, you should consider whether or not your insurance will cover it, be honest about your medical history, and know your risks. Costs vary depending on your insurance and the type of birth control.