First, health systems offered virtual visits via telephone or video for minor illnesses like colds and pinkeye.
Now Planned Parenthood has launched an app that will allow Nebraska women to request that birth control pills be delivered to their door, get a prescription for a urinary tract infection sent to a nearby pharmacy or learn about different birth control methods.
The app, Planned Parenthood Direct, now is available for birth control services in 27 states and Washington, D.C. The UTI service is available in 20 states and Washington, D.C. The organization plans to extend coverage to all 50 states by the end of next year.
Andi Curry Grubb, Nebraska executive director for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said the smartphone app provides Nebraska and Iowa women a convenient way to access sexual and reproductive health care from the organization’s providers whenever and wherever they want.
“Our patients are faced with increasing barriers to finding care, especially in the rural areas of our state,” she said.
In those rural areas, those barriers include a lack of providers or the fact that women might be uncomfortable seeking such care from the providers who are available.
“Having that safe and convenient and comfortable access to this care … we’ve seen that’s something our patients are interested in,” she said.
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The launch of the app comes less than a month after Planned Parenthood’s withdrawal from Title X, the federal grant program that provides family planning services, cancer screenings, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and other reproductive health care for millions of low-income or uninsured individuals and others.
A change to the Title X program last year by the Trump administration prohibits organizations that receive such funds from providing referrals to doctors who can provide abortions, the so-called gag clause. Planned Parenthood announced that it would remove itself from the program.
In Nebraska, a similar rule had been in effect in state budget language since July 2018. This year, federal officials for the first time awarded the state’s share of family planning funds to a private organization instead of to the state.
Curry Grubb said the app had been in the works long before that recent decision.
Planned Parenthood serves approximately 9,000 patients a year at two locations in Nebraska and an additional 1,000 at its Council Bluffs clinic.
The organization noted that there is considerable unmet need for services. More than 210,000 Nebraskans reported the need for contraceptive services, according to 2014 data from the Guttmacher Institute.
The move puts Planned Parenthood among a growing list of providers and insurers offering various forms of virtual care. Locally, for instance, CHI Health and the Methodist Health System list UTIs among the conditions their providers can treat remotely.
How to use the app
To use Planned Parenthood Direct, women download the free app to their phones, select the service they’re seeking and answer some health questions.
Curry Grubb said the questions are the same ones women would be asked during an in-person clinic visit. The organization still recommends that women see a provider for a yearly well visit, which focuses on regular check-ins, including cancer screenings.
A physician will respond within a business day. If there are no concerns, the physician would approve treatment. If there are concerns, the physician can refer the patient to a clinic.
Women then can order and pay for birth control pills, which will be delivered to their door. For those seeking treatment for a UTI, a prescription would be sent to a pharmacy. Birth control pills ring up at $20 a month; UTI medications start at about $15. While they pay cash for the birth control pills, patients can use insurance at the pharmacy for the UTI medications if they have it.
“We’ve worked really hard to make sure it’s as cost-effective as possible for patients,” Curry Grubb said.
She said that other birth control options, specifically contraceptive rings and patches, aren’t available now but that the organization hopes to add them in the future.
“It’s a pretty exciting program,” she said. “It’s new and we’ve gotten a lot of questions.”
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