- Planned Parenthood has expanded its app for birth control and urinary tract infection treatments to 27 states.
- The organization expects the app to be available in all 50 states by the end of next year.
- Proponents say the app saves users time as well as provides a convenience for people who don’t have the time or transportation to visit a health facility.
Fast, easy, completely private.
That’s how Planned Parenthood Federation of America is touting its free app that’s enabling a growing number of people to order birth control and antibiotics for urinary tract infections just by tapping their cellphone screen.
The reproductive healthcare nonprofit recently announced that the experimental app it introduced in 2014 on a limited basis now is functional in 27 states as well as the District of Columbia. It’s expected to be livethroughout the United States by the end of next year.
To date, users have downloaded Planned Parenthood Direct an estimated 300,000 times.
Proponents say the software is a boon to people who lack the time or transportation or otherwise have difficulty getting to a clinic, as well as those who can’t afford an office visit.
It helped Tiffany Verbeck, 31, of Rockville, Maryland, who was running out of birth control pills and couldn’t get an appointment with her primary care provider until October.
Remembering that a friend had once mentioned she got her birth control online, Verbeck searched and found Planned Parenthood Direct.
She was down to her last pill when she pulled out her phone and made an appointment for a brief video chat with a staffer before getting a prescription for a year’s worth of pills.
“It was so quick they barely asked me anything,” Verbeck told Healthline.
A half-hour later, she was at the pharmacy picking up her order.
“Overall it was way easier than I expected,” said Verbeck.
She noted that the only glitch was getting the audio to work on both ends of the video call, a problem that was quickly resolved.
Will she use the app again?
“I totally would,” she said. “It was easier than having to drive to the doctor.”
Isabel Gregg, a women’s health nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood of New York City, said people have embraced the technology where she works as well.
“They’re very relieved, grateful, excited that they were able to get the care that they needed,” she told Healthline.
She added that the app is especially appealing to the younger demographic that’s grown up with cellphones.
“Many people feel more comfortable, especially when it comes to sexual health, being behind their phone rather than calling their clinician or going in for a visit,” Gregg said.
Since the app became available to New York State residents last November about 14,000 have created profiles. Approximately 4,600 of those have used the app to request care — often without having to see a provider in person.
First-time patients of Planned Parenthood can take advantage of the convenience. So can teens as young as 14 depending on the laws of their state.
Gregg spends all her time as a telehealth clinician, using Planned Parenthood Direct to interact with clients from affiliates around the state and review their medical information.
The software had its beginnings in 2014, when Planned Parenthood expanded its cellphone technology by rolling out the first of two experimental telehealth apps in a couple of states.
Here’s how the official version of Planned Parenthood Direct works:
- Create an account and answer a few health-related questions, including information about your latest blood pressure reading.
- Enter information about your method of payment.
- Choose whether you want to order birth control or antibiotics for a urinary tract infection. UTI medications are available in most of the 27 states where the app is live.
- Expect an acknowledgment within one business day.
- If the prescription is approved, you have the choice of having birth control pills are sent directly to you or to a pharmacy. UTI treatments are mailed to your local pharmacy.
Some states require users to participate in a video chat with a care provider before Planned Parenthood can fulfill their request.
Even then, getting a prescription is not a given.
If someone wants antibiotics but has a history of kidney disorders or symptoms that indicate they have something more serious than a UTI, Planned Parenthood staffers will advise them to use the app to make an appointment at their local health center instead, Gregg said.
App users also must make an in-person visit to get birth control in the form of a transdermal patch, vaginal ring, intrauterine device (IUD), implant, or injection.
Gregg noted that a side benefit of the app is that it can alert providers to problems with people who have been to a Planned Parenthood facility in the past.
She recalls the case of a woman who had requested birth control through the app, prompting staff members to check her health records.
They noticed that she had missed a follow-up appointment after the results of a Pap smear came back positive — a situation that, if ignored, could turn into cervical cancer.
The discovery prompted them to get the woman back to the center for treatment.
As far as Amanda Megan is concerned, Planned Parenthood Direct is a “lifesaver.”
The 24-year-old college senior from Phoenix downloaded the app when she first learned about it on social media, figuring it might come in handy at some point.
Sure enough, Megan used the tool this spring when she returned from vacation only to develop a UTI.
Reluctant to ask her boss for more time off to see a doctor, Megan instead reached out for help via the app.
She described her symptoms and requested an antibiotic she’d used for previous infections. A day later, she picked up the medication at Walgreens after she got off work.
“I’m one of those people who been through this, I know what I need to do — I don’t need someone to hold my hand. I just need to get going,” said Megan. “I really liked (the app). It made it a lot easier.”
Although she hasn’t used the app to get birth control yet, Megan thinks she probably will go that route in the future instead of making an in-person appointment only to give the same answers to the usual questions about whether there have been changes to her health history.
Planned Parenthood officials say the app’s expansion has nothing to do with the organization’s August 19 announcement that it no longer will accept Title X funds.
The federal government issues these grants to nonprofits as well as state and local public health departments to provide family planning and reproductive health care with the proviso that the money cannot be used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or imminent danger to the mother’s health.
The rules tightened this spring, however. One requires Title X recipients that provide abortions to establish a physical separation between where that procedure takes place and the areas where they provide other services.
Planned Parenthood had been receiving $60 million annually from Title X and was serving about 40 percent of the 4 million people the federal money helps.
Now, Planned Parenthood officials are predicting that the loss of funds could make birth control and other reproductive health care prohibitively expensive for the many low-income women the nonprofit serves, while possibly forcing some health centers to close altogether.