Planned Parenthood is rolling out a pilot program in Minnesota and Washington that allows women to consult with a health professional online. After having a video consultation, they’ll be able to order birth control that discreetly shows up in an unmarked package at their home.
The new program, called “Planned Parenthood Care,” simply requires women to download a smartphone app or register for an online account. According to the women’s health organization, consultations should last just 15 minutes and cost $45. The whole idea is to give women a more convenient option to access the hormonal contraceptive of their choice, whether it’s the pill, patch, or ring.
“Our patients are between the ages of roughly 18 and 29, so they are millennials, and they are used to being on [the] cutting edge of technology adaptation,” Sarah Stoesz, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, told the Minnesota Star Tribune. “Planned Parenthood is not their mother’s Planned Parenthood. We have really evolved.”
Right now, since women need to visit a doctor’s office in person to obtain a prescription for birth control, they can end up in a tight spot if they can’t get an appointment in time, especially if they live in a rural area. Stoesz told the Tribune that the first woman to take advantage of Planned Parenthood Care ran out of birth control pills and couldn’t see her regular physician soon enough; fortunately, she discovered this new option online. The program’s site points out that it’s “easy and convenient” and “fits into your schedule.”
“So many people struggle to balance work, family, school, and taking care of their health. Whether it’s difficulty in getting an appointment, the distance to a health center, or a busy work schedule — Planned Parenthood knows that the more access patients have to a provider, the more they can get the preventive care they need, when they need it,” Jill Balderson, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of Health Care Innovation, told ThinkProgress via email.
Reproductive health experts have long advocated for removing the birth control prescription requirement to make it easier for women to pick it up. Although oral contraceptives are the most popular form of birth control, many women don’t take their pills as directed because of the inconvenience of needing to make a trip to the doctor whenever they run out. Nearly two thirds of U.S. women say they wish they could buy the pill over the counter.
It seems like there’s political momentum for making that policy change — an increasing number of Republican candidates have been coming out in favor of over-the-counter birth control — but in the meantime, Planned Parenthood wants to help expand women’s access to the health services they need. Although the program currently doesn’t accept insurance, the women’s health group says it’s in talks with insurers to work out a way to make sure patients can use their coverage to pay for the video consultation.
The pilot program is currently focusing on birth control consultations, but will start including online STD counseling next month. Then, treatments for chlamydia and gonorrhea will also be able to be shipped to patients’ doors.
“We’ve gotten great feedback about the program, including requests to expand to other states as quickly as possible,” Balderson said.
Although online health services are becoming increasingly popular, they often run into controversy when it comes to women’s gender-specific health care. Planned Parenthood has also pioneered telemedicine abortion — a method of allowing a doctor to prescribe the abortion pill over video chat for women who live too far away from the nearest clinic — but GOP lawmakers have moved to outlaw it, claiming it’s safer to take the pill in a doctor’s office and they simply want to protect women’s health. It remains to be seen whether Republican politicians will make a similar case against online birth control.