Not long ago, getting a prescription for hormonal birth control could be a time-consuming, stressful process for many women. Now, according to the New York Times, there are at least six digital ventures, including one from Planned Parenthood, that provide prescription contraceptives without requiring a visit to a doctor.
Instead, women can simply sign up for an app, provide some basic information about their health, and then receive a prescription from a clinician for the birth control of their choice. In some cases, they can also be counseled by a doctor via text or video chat. All of these apps offer prescriptions for birth control pills, and some also provide prescriptions for patches, rings and morning-after pills. Some apps such as Nurx are able to accept insurance, while others charge a modest fee for contraceptive prescriptions.
For women with prohibitively busy schedules, these apps can make contraceptive options far more accessible. Because clinicians still write the prescriptions, the apps don’t have to receive legislative approval to operate. In essence, they act as intermediaries between patients and clinicians. To maintain legal compliance, the apps’ proprietors must simply follow the telemedicine regulations of the states in which they operate and prescribe only in states where their clinicians are licensed. Likewise, they have the potential to reach women who might not otherwise seek birth control from a doctor’s office.
In an attempt to avoid public controversy, many of the apps have restrictions that are actually stricter than what is medically required. Prjkt Ruby, for example, requires users to be at least the age of consent for sexual activity in the state in which they live. Other apps such as Lemonaid have additional safety restrictions on what types of birth control can be prescribed to women over the age of 34.
Many healthcare officials are enthusiastic about the potential of these apps to provide women with improved access to birth control, but they’re careful to point out that women should still receive regular health examinations from their doctors as well.