New telehealth program offers women birth control prescriptions over the phone
Intermountain Health will now give adult women the chance to receive prescriptions for basic birth control through telehealth appointments, according to Carrie Dunford, chief pharmacy officer at Intermountain Health.
The program combines mail-order prescriptions with telehealth appointments to quickly send self-administered hormonal birth control to women (such as contraceptive pills, vaginal rings or patches), according to Intermountain Health.
Patients must first fill out an online form with their medical history, Dunford said, adding that a pharmacist will then reach out for an online appointment, where they will discuss the prescription needs — and, if approved, their prescription will be mailed to them.
“Oftentimes, making an appointment with a women’s health provider can take weeks to months, and so this allows them access to contraceptive products while they’re able to do that appointment on their own time,” Dunford said. “We’re hearing that this is a nice option for women who are looking for that so that they can plan for their other visits and not feel like they have to rearrange their whole lives to see someone.”
Telehealth appointments will also greatly benefit women who don’t have a general practitioner or time for routine appointments, the health system said in a release.
The fee for a virtual visit with an Intermountain Health provider is $20, Dunford added, and with some insurance, the telehealth visit and prescriptions are free.
“That is definitely less expensive than an office visit,” Dunford said.
Glen Beeby, director of communications at Intermountain Health, said telehealth appointments “can really help rural people who may not have access to a specialist.”
If the pharmacist notices any unusual medical issues or complications, they can recommend the patient to a doctor to receive appropriate treatments, the press release added.
“We can coordinate to get that patient to be seen with a provider more quickly so that they can get the right type of birth control for their risk factors,” Dunford said.
It became easier to get certain prescriptions in 2021, after the Utah Legislature passed HB178: Pharmacy Practice Modifications.
“I just am in favor of people having greater access to a wider variety of health care, whether that’s pharmacists or telehealth,” said Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, the bill’s sponsor.
The relatively new law allows pharmacists to prescribe medications relating to “smoking cessation, post-exposure HIV prophylaxis, pre-exposure HIV prophylaxis,” as well as naloxone and — in accordance with the Intermountain Health program, self-administered hormonal contraceptives.
“The intent of the bill is to say: ‘Hey, let’s recognize that pharmacists are in the community, easily accessible — they’re highly skilled professionals and let’s let them do what they’re trained to do,'” Thurston said.
The bill allows any pharmacist to prescribe self-administered birth control; however, Intermountain Health has likely one of the few programs focusing on both telehealth appointments and mail-order services, as it has a system-specific pharmacy that mails out prescriptions following the pharmacy appointments, Dunford said.
Even though the bill passed in 2021, the Intermountain Health program just started its telehealth appointments this week.
“We just honestly didn’t think of the idea to do this in a virtual fashion until more recently and then also had to create a technical background to be able to make this possible,” Dunford said. “Some of those things just took some time to put together.”
The health system has just combined its mail-order prescriptions and telehealth services to create the most convenient situation for patients, Dunford noted.
Intermountain Health will also provide an opt-in refill program for home-delivery prescriptions. When patient prescriptions may be running low, the program will send a text. The patient then can “press one button and it sends that refill to them,” she said.
“One of the keys to having effective contraception is being consistent with taking the dose as prescribed,” Dunford said. “We want to make sure that patients don’t have any gaps in their therapy.”