Telemedicine's Next Frontier: Birth Control

Aug 29, 2017

Telemedicine, the medical practice in which doctors remotely diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication through phone calls or video conferencing, has for years been used to treat illnesses ranging from strep throat to ear infections.

Now, a San Francisco-based startup — which launched a new telemedicine app in Indiana Tuesday — hopes telemedicine can do the same for birth control.

The app, called Nurx, delivers prescription contraceptives to women’s homes without requiring a physical trip to the doctor.

Instead, women answer a series of medical questions on the app, which are evaluated by a doctor who can write a birth control prescription. The prescription is delivered to the woman’s home or called into a local pharmacy.

Nurx CEO Hans Gangeskar says the goal is to expand access to contraceptives, not replace in-person visits to the doctor.

“Previously, it was thought that if you withheld certain services for people who wouldn’t come into the doctor’s office, they were more likely to come into the doctor’s office,” he says. “But a wealth of information shows that doesn’t work. And, what works is to give people what they need in a safe and convenient manner.”

Gangeskar says women can communicate with their doctors through a messaging function on the app, which he says is leading to more candid conversations about women’s health.

“They just feel there’s less judgement and it’s less awkward to talk about these topics that are taboo for a lot of people,” he says.

The app also connects women with Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and emergency contraceptives such as Plan B.

Through the Affordable Care Act, Nurx services are often free for women with health insurance. Those without coverage can get access to prescriptions starting at $15 per month.

Telemedicine legislation passed in 2016 in Indiana allows doctors to prescribe some medications without seeing a patient in person. The state was slower to adopt to the new telehealth industry, becoming the 47th state to approve the practice.

Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center Program Director Becky Sanders says the expansion of telemedicine in Indiana is helping more Hoosiers access preventative healthcare.

“We’re really seeing telehealth last year and this year legislatively coming into mainstream where more and more people have either had a telehealth visit, or actually can define it,” Sanders says.

Sanders says she expects to see more apps like Nurx come to the state as telemedicine becomes more popular.

“I have young kids at home and they don’t know a world without a cell phone,” she says. “They’re very much of an instant gratification society. These children are just used to having everything at their fingertips. And, I think that’s just going to become the norm as time goes on.”

This story originally appeared on WFIU News.