Health care entrepreneur Nick Chang began his career working at family planning clinics in the San Francisco Bay area. The experience, he tells Yahoo Beauty, “opened his eyes to the many hurdles that stood in the way of getting access to contraceptives.”
“How I saw it was that it’s not just, ‘Oh, it’s hard to go to a brick-and-mortar pharmacy and pick up a prescription’ — the challenge was bigger. It was about getting to a physician and getting a prescription. There weren’t just structural, but social barriers.”
With 20 million American women living in a contraceptive desert — an area where there is less than one publicly funded family planning clinic for every 1,000 women eligible for publicly funded contraception — Chang says he simply couldn’t understand “why it was so easy to get a shaver or mattress delivered to you but why it was so hard to get contraceptives delivered to you.”
Chang’s solution? He founded The Pill Club — sort of like a Birchbox for birth control — delivering oral contraceptives to your door each month, along with samples of new and innovative personal care products (organic condoms, organic lube, organic tampons… and chocolate). The other thing about The Pill Club? It allows you to get birth control even if you don’t have access to a physician.
To solve the prescription issue, The Pill Club offers online prescribing, which allows new patients to fill out a brief questionnaire before being connected — via phone, text, and video messaging — with a physician who can follow up and prescribe them the form of contraception that suits them best. The most interesting thing about The Pill Club: They are not alone.
There is Prjkt Ruby, a mail-order service that makes birth control and emergency contrceptives available through online prescribing and at-home delivery. There’s also the PillPack, which manages your existing birth control prescription and has it delivered straight to your door along with any other outstanding prescriptions.
Bedsider, the online contraceptive support network for women ages 18-29, now even offers a tool on its site to find what delivery-to-your door birth control options exist based on a person’s ZIP code.
Larry Swiader, the vice president of digital media at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, tells Yahoo Beauty that online services that bring birth control straight to a person’s mailbox are an incredibly important new development.
“There are contraceptive deserts and pharmacy deserts,” he says, “And there are issues in terms of access to transportation not being equal in this country. And people being encumbered by childcare and work and so many other things that can leave them needing better, easier access to birth control.”
Swiader also notes that research shows that when birth control is made more convenient — for example, when a person receives 12-month pack of pills, thus eliminating the need for a monthly trip to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription — adherence is better. This in turn means that “protection is better and health is better.”
“We’re so excited about these alternate delivery methods for a number of reasons,” Ginny Ehrlich, the chief executive officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, tells Yahoo Beauty. “One, this is the way that people absolutely access all kinds of goods now, through delivery-to-your-door services. Second, for those who live in rural or remote areas, they may have health care access but not have ready access to pharmacies. And third, for women who might not feel comfortable going to a brick-and-mortar facility for a number of reasons — whether they are undocumented or don’t feel comfortable interacting with the health care system, or have transportation barriers — these systems increase access and close gaps.”
“I do receive other prescribed medicine by mail myself,” Ehrlich continues. “Women should know this is an option for them just like for any other medication available by prescription. And I think women should know that they can also use electronic means to communicate with a health care provider and can feel really comfortable about this kind of solution.”
Jacquelyn Miller, the vice president of communications for PillPack, explains to Yahoo Beauty that while PillPack’s core customers are people managing chronic conditions that involve taking multiple medications daily, including birth control in their PillPack mailings is a great way to simplify their lives.
“We’re taking the day-to-day hassles out of the way so you can be committed to your routine,” Miller says. “This way, your medication comes right to your doorstep and can be taken as prescribed — which is something relevant for birth control.”
Miller says that because it does take time to go to a pharmacy, stay on top of your refills, and figure out what your insurance will cover, birth control is especially relevant to the to-your-door model.
Ehrlich describes services like The Pill Club, Pill Pack, and Prjkt Ruby as exciting additions to the existing expansion of telemedicine in the reproductive health space.
“These services start a dialogue,” Ehrlich says. And gives women even more ways to take control of their reproductive health.
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