This New App Revolutionizes Birth Control Access

by Rachel Sanoff

If a woman lives in California, is at least 18 years old, and has a smartphone, obtaining a new prescription for any birth control pill on the market just got a whole lot easier. Doctors in California have developed a new smartphone app to revolutionize the process required to gain access to birth control pill prescriptions. The app, called PolkaDoc, was launched in February 2015 by Dr. Jason Hwang, both a licensed doctor with the Medical Board of California and a graduate of Harvard Business School. Also co-founded by Dr. Bonnie Zell, the app's goal is to reduce the economic, social, and logistical stresses that often coincide with or prevent you from renewing your prescription.

Typically, when a woman needs to renew her prescription, she has to schedule an in-person appointment with her doctor. This can be inconvenient and inaccessible for many reasons. She may have to miss work in order to see her doctor, and paid sick days are not a luxury provided to all women. She may not have access to affordable transportation that will bring her to the doctor's office. She may be unable to afford all of the appointment fees. Now, she just has to pull out her phone. At any time, a woman can spend just $15 on an "eVisit" and be granted a three-month prescription that will allow her to maintain her reproductive health.

Here is what you can expect during your eVisit so the doctors can safely provide your correct prescription:

  • Since, unfortunately, you do have to be 18 or over (hopefully teens can soon have such easy access to birth control pills!), you will have to submit a photo of your driver's license or government-issued ID to verify your age. This is also to verify your identity and let doctors know exactly who they are treating. You will also have to record and submit a video of you stating your name for the same reason.
  • You will have to fill out a survey to screen for your "eligibility to safely take the medication." This is extremely important, as certain forms/any forms of the Pill are not safe for everybody. You will be asked questions about your medical history, blood pressure, etc. (Make sure you know your blood pressure when you have your eVisit! Thankfully, you can figure that out for free at many chain drug stores). The screening method that the app employs is approved by both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, so you know you are in good hands.
  • Next, choose your pharmacy (which can be literally any pharmacy in the entire state of California). The app will electronically send over your prescription, and you will be able to pick up three months of birth control pills at your desired location.

It only takes one business day for the doctors to evaluate your screening and confirm that you are able to safely take your preferred pill. That means, barring any issues with your screening, you can have access to birth control the very next day. Just head to your local pharmacy to pay for and pick up your new round of pills.

So far, the app has helped two dozen California patients gain prescriptions to their birth control pills. For many of them, without the convenience of PolkaDoc, they would have been unable to renew their prescriptions in time, thus risking pregnancy due to economic and bureaucratic barriers. It is also not uncommon for doctors to refuse prescriptions if their patients don't come in for medically unnecessary, costly exams. These obstacles are what prompted Dr. Hwang to develop the app. When speaking to Refinery 29, Dr. Hwang said, "Birth control is affordable to most people, a routine thing to prescribe, and can be readily given. Why, then, is it that women have unintended pregnancies? Because we made it difficult to get birth control."

A woman who has already been helped by the app had "recently moved to California but couldn’t see a doctor to refill her prescription for almost eight weeks. Her pills were going to be gone in two weeks." PolkaDoc saved her in the nick of time. "Another realized on her train ride home from work that she was on her last pill. She placed her order during the ride, and the prescription was waiting for her at a local pharmacy when she showed up."Perhaps one of the most revolutionary features of the app is the fact that it does not require health insurance or proof of citizenship. This grants access to numerous demographics of non-white, lower-class, and/or undocumented women who are marginalized on their quests for reproductive health and bodily autonomy. For those without citizenship, as long as they can provide international identification, there is no need for a visa or any form of US documentation. Dr. Hwang said, "We really don’t care. If a woman needs birth control, we are going to give it to her." #Amen. We are already hearing about the amazing outcomes of this policy; one PolkaDoc user did not have access to health insurance, and had been unsuccessful in finding a single doctor who would see her to provide a prescription. Thankfully, she discovered the app in time. PolkaDoc is already proving to be a godsend for many women in the state.More positives: PolkaDoc will also recommend your safest birth control pill option if you are not yet sure which one is right for you. It can also email eVisit records for you to show other doctors in order keep them in the loop about your medication. We are in a constant war for control over our own reproductive systems. The United States Supreme Court has said, “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” Imagine if people all over the country had access to apps like PolkaDoc. Imagine if there were apps for other kinds of birth control prescriptions, since some women can't safely take the Pill. Imagine if we had access to OTC birth control. Imagine if improved access didn't require being able to afford a smartphone and a data plan. Hopefully, PolkaDoc will just be one of many steps in our long journey to accessible birth control of all kinds for every person who needs it.Images: OiMax/Flickr; PolkaDoc (1)