Websites and Apps Are Changing the Way Women Obtain Birth Control
By Anni Irish
In recent months, there has been a dramatic shift underway in the way that women obtain birth control. Through various apps and websites that have sprung up as a result of the development of the growing telehealth field, women are now able to fill their prescriptions through a few simple clicks of the mouse or taps on their smart phones.
According to Dr. Mary Ann Chiasson, professor of clinical epidemiology at Columbia University and vice president of research and evaluation at Public Health Solutions, the emerging trend of choosing and purchasing birth control online “will expand availability and access to contraception to more women. This will empower a woman to make more informed decisions about the best method of birth control for her. With so many methods available, choosing the right one can be a daunting task.”
While some websites offer a great service for women who are already using birth control, there are also a handful of online resources that help women select which method makes the most sense for them. One example is Which Method, a website and app developed in 2015 by Public Health Solutions, one of the largest public health institutes in the world, and by Dr. Chiasson. Bedsider, another app and website, also helps women weigh the pros and cons of various birth control options, though it does not fill prescriptions.
For women who have already made a choice as to which birth control method is best for them, there are several apps and websites, including Lemonaid, Nurx, Maven, Pandia Health, Virtuwell, and Planned Parenthood Care. With Nurx and Lemonaid, customers fill out a survey indicating what medications they are taking. Lemonaid is currently available only in California, Florida, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington, though it hopes to expand to other states. The website, which offers prescriptions for birth control and urinary tract infections, advertises a two-hour turnaround. Nurx, which functions only as an app, is currently available only in New York and California. Products on the Nurx site are also available to those without insurance, with prices starting at $15. Meanwhile, Pandia Health is the only site that was founded and run by women; it is currently writing and filling prescriptions just in California, though it hopes to be up and running in 20 states by 2017. Pandia Health is free if you already have a prescription and just want delivery and if you need a prescription it is $39 for a doctor’s visit that includes a one year prescription for birth control.
One website offering a different approach is Prjkt Ruby, which gives away free birth control to poor women in developing countries with each purchase. After filling out a questionnaire that is reviewed by a doctor, customers are mailed a three-month supply of the pill for $20. Pandia Health and Prjkt Ruby are able to mail prescriptions directly to a person’s address instead of the customer having to run to a pharmacy. Under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which became active in 2010, private health insurance plans are required by law to offer birth control at no cost to women without copays and without deductibles. This applies to all employers unless they are religious i.e. church or Jesuit college.
According to a recent Center for Disease Control report, only 8 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 use long-acting reversible forms of birth control, such as the IUD or contraceptive implant. With the growth in popularity of these various apps and websites, the hope is that these numbers will rise.
Some websites and apps even provide more than just contraceptive methods. For example, the Maven app offer access to various types of physicians, including mental health care providers, with appointments costing $18 to $70 for sessions lasting 10 to 40 minutes.
As the telehealth field continues to evolve, the laws governing online access to contraception vary from state to state. However, many health care providers believe that telehealth is sustainable, and that websites for purchasing birth control will grow in popularity because they simplify the process and reduce the anxiety involved. According to Dr. Sophia Yen, CEO and Co-Founder Of Pandia Health: “That is the whole reason that I founded Pandia Health: to provide greater access to prescription birth control … and to decrease the stress in women’s lives. Women suffer from ‘pill anxiety’ every month—the fear of running out of your birth control pills, the stress of having to run to the pharmacy every month … We take away this stress.”
Dr. Yen also noted that another advantage of having greater access to birth control is a decrease in the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions. “The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology stated in 2012 and re-affirmed in 2014 that birth control pills should be available over the counter. By allowing increased access to birth control, there will be fewer unplanned pregnancies, and thus fewer abortions, and this is a good thing. The United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancies compared to the rest of the industrialized nations. It’s not because our teens have more sex. It’s because they don’t have the same access to comprehensive sex education and confidential reproductive health care and birth control.”
While the long-term impact of purchasing birth control online is yet to be determined, the options currently available are helping women gain access to contraception in more affordable, comfortable, and non-judgmental ways. For those online sites that do not accept health insurance, users pay based on a sliding scale, and sites like Nurx, Pandia, and Prjkt Ruby are able to mail prescriptions directly to a person’s address instead of to a pharmacy. Dr. Yen said, “Getting your birth control online allows this to be more confidential and discreet. Before, going to a clinic or pharmacy, you risked being seen there. Now you can do all of that from the comfort of your home, your car, your room.”