World’s First Approved Birth Control App: Will It Push Out The Pill? | TODAY
This Startup Lets You Get Birth Control Without A Doctor's Visit—But Is That Even Safe?
You know the drill when you want to get birth control pills: You have to go to your doctor, talk about your options, get a prescription, go to the pharmacy, wait for it to get filled, and thenfinallyyou have it. Depending on your doctor, you probably have to repeat the process again in a year.
It’s a total PIA, and it’s understandable that women aren’t exactly thrilled to do it. That's why we were pumped to hear about Nurx, a new service that says it can help you get birth control without having to see your doctor. The app, which is available in several states, prompts you to pick the birth control method you want, fill out a survey, and enter your insurance information. Everything is then reviewed by a team of doctors who can prescribe birth control pills, PrEP (an anti-HIV medication that can reduce your risk of contracting the infection), and even Plan B, which can be overnighted to you.
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Nurx is usually free for people with insurance, but meds start at for those without. The app doesn’t serve the entire country, but Nurx spokesperson Victoria Perweiler says they’re launching in one to two new states every month. “Each state has different telemedicine laws and we take medical regulations very seriously, partnering with licensed medical providers and partner pharmacies in each state,” she explains.
The service sounds great in theory, but is it safe to get your birth control this way?
Watch men answer questions about birth control (spoiler alert—they're clueless):
There are a lot of pros to a service like this being available, says women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D. “It will lower the country's unplanned pregnancy rate,” she says. “And for women without easy access to a primary health-care provider or without regular care, this can be life changing.” (Kick-start your new, healthy routine withWomen's Health's!)
But Wider says there are a few cons. Some believe a "valid" relationship needs to be established between doctor and patient in order to provide safe and thorough medical care. “Birth control is not without risks and possible side effects,” she says. “The worry is that this online interaction may not be complete enough to get the proper information on the patient and follow up later.” For example, the survey asks health questions but if someone isn’t upfront about, say, their smoking habit, it can potentially cause problems for them down the road. Smoking can increase your risk of blood clots while taking birth control, Wider explains. And, if that patient has symptoms of a deep-vein thrombosis, a form of blood clot that forms in one of the deep veins in your legs, they may not know who to follow up with—or may not recognize their symptoms. And that can be deadly.
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Also, it’s worth pointing out that an app like Nurx can’t give you a long-acting reversible contraceptive [LARC] method of birth control like the implant or an IUD—those need to be inserted by your doctor.
Claire Brindis, P.h.D., director of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the UCSF School of Medicine, says the doctor-reviewed element is important. “There are decades of research that demonstrate that the risks associated with the use of birth control pills is minimal, yet, we want to be sure that there are links between this delivery system and clinics and doctor’s offices,” she says. It largely has to do with women receiving information about where they can access care if they need it, she explains.
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People really only need to consult with a doctor to make sure a thorough medical history and physical is taken, Wider says. However, she adds, “some argue that this is a low-risk medication, so it matters less than, let's say, a cholesterol-lowering drug which has a stronger side-effect profile.”
Brindis calls services like this “groundbreaking” and says they can really help women, especially those who don’t have access to care or are just really busy. “I would still like this program to encourage women to seek primary care, but in terms of safety and the effectiveness of these methods of birth control, there is no doubt,” she says.
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