Doctors Recommend Caution
WASHINGTON — A new smartphone application offers delivery of birth control as a convenience. But, some doctors say it could lead to health risks.
Are you on the pill? That is a common question women hear when sexually active. Whether the question is coming from a doctor, concerned parent, friend or sexual partner, women often feel obligated to obtain their own protection.
That’s the reason that a new smartphone application, called Nurx, is rapidly becoming what some perceive as a girl’s best friend. It expedites the process of getting birth control by delivering it to a person’s door within 24 hours.
“I’m super lazy and taking time out of my schedule to visit the doctor just so they can prescribe more birth control is annoying,” said Amber O’Riley (Not her real name), who is currently prescribed to birth control. O’Riley asked that her real name not be used in this story in order to protect her privacy.
Once the application is downloaded, the user answers eight questions in order to receive three months’ worth of their chosen contraception. The chosen contraception will be prescribed by a physician licensed in the state where the order takes place. Nurx provides these services for free to those who have insurance, and charges as low as $15 for those without.
Currently, the application provides services to women 18 and up in the state of California and will soon expand to New York, Florida and Illinois, according to Hans Gangeskar, a founder of Nurx and a former attorney.
According to a Contraception in America study, conducted by medical communications company Strategic Pharma Solutions, about 15 percent of women use the pill compared to only 8 percent who said they used a male condom.
According to PlannedParent.org, there are 11 birth control methods available for women, compared to only two for men. However, it can be more difficult for women to obtain birth control pills, as they can not be picked up on a late night store run. Also, the process of making an appointment and consulting with a physician every few months can be daunting for many women.
Not only does Nurx provide convenient delivery, but the application also eliminates the need to constantly follow-up with doctors. However, users can reach their physicians via text message if they have any questions or concerns.
Dr. James K. Massengill, an obstetrician-gynecologist, believes the application is a good idea, but, he does have two main concerns.
“First, young ladies might not get their pap smears done as they will not have to come in for their birth control pill refills,” Massengill said.
Secondly, Massengill says if women stay away from their doctors, they may not get necessary testing for sexually transmitted diseases. “They may have infections that will not be detected and thus not treated and can have tubal damage,” he said.
Dr. Rudolph M. Chang, an osteopathic physician, also said the new application may run into some issues. He is concerned that users may not fully understand the “side effects [such as] problems with increased risk of blood clotting, especially in smokers and obese patients.” He said there may also be a possibility of undelivered items and theft which can ultimately result in unintended pregnancies.
Regardless of criticism, Gangeskar, along with his co-founder, Edvar Engesaeth, a physician, have decided women need more convenience in obtaining birth control.
“We wanted to make preventative healthcare more accessible for people,” Gangeskar said. “We started with contraception because this is a complicated and burdensome process for many people today.”
After viewing Nurx on her smartphone, O’Riley said, “I like how the app shows you several birth control options with the specific names of each of them … Whenever I go into the doctor’s office, I always feel so overwhelmed by everything they tell me and he ends up just picking the option for me. I’m not even sure the name of the pill I’m on now.”
Gangeskar said that each year there are about three million unintended pregnancies in the United States. He believes main the main contributors to these pregnancies are the “financial barriers” and “unnecessary hoops people have to jump through” to obtain proper birth control.
“This motivated us to create an app that streamlines this process and, unlike similar apps, Nurx users have the option to use their insurance to cover the cost,” Gangeskar said. “We want women to be able to access their birth control on their own terms.”