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Secret shoppers find telemedicine dispenses birth control appropriately

Researchers found that 93% of the time, telemedicine visits adhered to CDC guidelines regarding birth control.
By Laura Lovett
03:28 pm

While the web may seem like the wild west for purchasing goods, a recent New England Journal of Medicine correspondence found when it comes to birth control telemedicine follows medical standards, and is safe and affordable. 

“These findings suggest that telecontraception may reduce barriers to contraception because vendors are convenient and accessible,” the authors of the correspondence wrote. “In addition, adherence to guidelines among telecontraception vendors may be higher than it is among clinics that provide in-person visits.”

In the article, researchers tasked a group of seven secret shoppers with acquiring birth control via telemedicine. However, five of these  shoppers had conditions that, according to CDC regulations, rule out oral birth control. Each shopper went through nine visits equaling 63 telemedicine visits in total.

Researchers found that in the 45 visits where there was a contraction to prescribing the medication, it was only prescribed to patients three times, translating to a 93% adherence rate with the CDC guidelines. 

All of the visits included an online questionnaire and 20 of the visits included a follow-up interaction through either texting, calls or video chats. However, the researchers did note that none of the companies screened for the ability to ingest the medication. 

“Telecontraception vendors could increase the quality of their services by improving screening for patient adherence to the regimen of ingesting a pill daily and for rare contraindications to oral contraceptives,” researchers wrote. “Vendors should also make sure that patients are aware of more effective, long-acting, reversible contraceptives.”


While telemedicine has been around for more than a decade, it is still often viewed as the new kid on the block in healthcare and providers still wary of the services. In recent years telemedicine has been the subject of scores of studies with mixed results depending on the subject and scope.

Although small, this case study shows that telemedicine may be a convenient and effective means of delivering contraception. 

"For most health conditions, a visit to the doctor remains essential, but there are certain clinical scenarios for which this model appears to be overall safe and efficient," Ateev Mehrotra, senior author of the study. an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and a hospitalist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said in a statement. 


More and more companies are offering contraceptives through a virtual medicine platform. Pill Club, a company that offers birth control through telemedicine, landed $51 million in January and isn't alone. Nurx scored $36 million in 2018 to provide birth control prescriptions via telemedicine to women in rural areas. Nurx also offers free delivery, in addition to pre-exposure prophylaxis treatments for HIV prevention and a home screening test for HPV.

One of the other new enterances to the space is Hims, which offers online and mail-order men's health products such as treatments for hair loss and erectile dysfunction. The company recently expanded its offerings to include a "Hers" line for women, which includes birth control among its offerings.



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