We've all become accustomed to buying everything from books to clothes to even furniture online, but for many people, getting birth control still means taking the time to go to the doctor and sit through a consultation before getting a prescription, then schlepping that prescription to the local pharmacy. But Planned Parenthood has just launched a pilot program to change all that. Now, patients in Minnesota and Washington will be able to talk to a nurse online and even get their birth control medication mailed to them at home in an unmarked package. In October, the program will be expanded to STI consultation, and even mail-order medications for chlamydia. There's even a phone app!
"The service is expected to be especially appealing to clients living in rural areas who don’t have ready access to a clinic," writes Dan Browning at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. But it's not just access that's likely appealing to those people. The Planned Parenthood website highlights that the service is "discreet." This is great for those who would rather not be seen going into a family planning clinic or picking up a package with the iconic round birth control pill dispenser at the pharmacy. Discretion can also be critical for young people living at home who don't want their parents to know that they're sexually active. (For STI services, the promise of discretion is likely an even bigger draw.)
This program could also help patients avoid another danger: Disreputable, often illegal online pharmacies. When I Googled "buy birth control" this morning, I got some useful websites like Bedsider, but mostly the first search results page was cluttered with shady online "pharmacies" that promise a chance to get prescription drugs without a prescription. Clearly enough people are eager to buy birth control pills online discreetly, and now people in Minnesota and Washington can do that without having to worry about whether what they're buying is the real deal or a fraud.
There's nothing new about telemedicine or even calling your doctor and getting a prescription without going in to see him or her, but many people, particularly young people, don't have a pre-existing relationship with a doctor that allows them to do that. Being able to click a button and talk to a nurse with the same ease you bought the new iPhone, and knowing that you are in touch with a reputable service, could mean the difference between getting health care or not for a lot of people. Let’s hope Planned Parenthood is able to expand this program to more states in the coming months.