Whether it’s used to prevent pregnancy, reduce menstrual migraines, or help control medical conditions like endometriosis, birth control is essential in healthcare. Yet many people who need it face stubborn barriers to access — and the COVID pandemic has strengthened those barriers while creating new ones. When shelter-in-place orders began in the spring, NURX immediately saw a significant increase in requests for our services. With doctor’s offices closing and people avoiding pharmacies to reduce the risk of exposure, patients in need of birth control turned to telehealth to access it in a safe and convenient way.
As restrictions have eased, people are turning to telehealth services like ours for birth control, for reasons beyond the immediate threat of COVID. We’ve heard from many patients that they’ve lost jobs and insurance coverage due to the pandemic, and need to get birth control affordably without paying to see a doctor in person.
At the start of the school year, we saw a 73% increase in 18-24-year-olds requesting birth control.
This may be due to colleges going remote and some young people living at home with parents, which disrupts their access to campus health centers where they’d typically access birth control.
While the pandemic has emphasized how challenging it can be to access birth control, even before this year, way too many people couldn’t access contraception conveniently and affordably, or (in some cases) at all.
More than 19 million women in the US are in need of publicly funded birth control and live in contraceptive deserts; an area where women in need lack access to a health center that offers the full range of contraceptive methods, and around 1.5 million of whom live in a county without a single health center offering the full range of methods.
They may have to drive an hour to see a provider, which doesn’t work well for anyone and may be a non-starter for an hourly employee who can’t afford to miss work or somebody who doesn’t have a car.
Whether you’re facing financial, geographic, or logistical barriers, or safety concerns, related to COVID, telehealth can be a solution, and it doesn’t stop with birth control. Telehealth is especially helpful for accessing care that may have a stigma associated with it. This year we’ve seen over 120% increase in our home STI testing service, a nearly 200% increase in herpes treatment requests, and a 300% increase in requests for emergency contraception to have on hand. We also launched migraine treatment this fall because we know that many of our patients suffer from these debilitating headaches, but high-quality care can be hard to access (there are only about 500 headache specialists in the US and 39 million people, disproportionately women, who experience migraines). Plus, extra screen time and stress during the pandemic have worsened many people’s migraines.
To address COVID-related gaps in care for college-age people, we launched a College Health Hub
, where students can read advice on sexuality and sexual health from medical experts and sex educators. Nurx offers many of the services that a campus health clinic would, in a way that’s private, affordable, and delivered in discreet, unmarked packaging (in case you’re living with your parents).
Beyond the ability to access medication and tests, telehealth services like ours offer something that’s nearly as important, especially this year: The ability for patients and medical providers to connect at their convenience and on their terms.
Nurx patients can message our medical team any time with questions about a birth control side effect or an STI test result. Members of our medical team say that patients really open up, ask questions, and share concerns through private messaging in a way that they don’t during face-to-face appointments. They also say that telehealth enables them to deliver real quality healthcare because they’re not rushed.
Fundamentally, telehealth empowers patients. They can now access birth control and other essential care without having to jump through the hoops of finding an appointment, taking time away from work, finding childcare to get to the appointment, getting to the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions, and on top of it all finding a way to make it work within their budget. While the pandemic drove many people to use Nurx and other services like ours for the first time, I don’t see the demand for telehealth going away when COVID eventually does.
Once you experience care that's designed to make your life easier, more affordable, and more accepting, why would you do it any other way?