What telehealth is (and isn’t) and why you should use it to get your birth control

Skip the stress, get your BC delivered

Adulting is hard. Sometimes it can feel like basic life maintenance tasks like grocery shopping, showering, and making sure you’re not living in absolute squalor are a full-time job. And then to have to make money on top of all that, plus text everyone back all the time, and somehow stay hydrated? It’s a cruel joke. So it makes sense that it honestly feels like way too much to have to go see your health care provider to renew a prescription or to have to wait in line for 20 minutes at the pharmacy to pick up your birth control while people cough directly into your mouth.

Fortunately, it’s 2020, and there’s a better way. It’s called (drumroll please)…telehealth. Now, we know some of you are like wtf is that?! so we’re going to demystify it. Our goal, as always, is for everyone to be able to find the birth control that’s right for them, get it, use it, love it, and move on with their lives.

What is telehealth?

Before we tell you why we love it so much, we should probably start with what it is. Telehealth, also sometimes called telemedicine, is a broad term for any health care services you can get while not being physically in the room with a provider.

That includes emailing with a provider, using an online portal to get test results, calling the nurse line at your insurance company, doing a video chat with a provider, instant messaging with a provider, or getting your prescriptions mailed to you. Lots of people are doing one or more of these things without even realizing that they’re using telehealth.

What kinds of sexual and reproductive health care services can you get via telehealth?

There are so many types of services you can get via telehealth, but the telehealth services we care most about are the sexual and reproductive health care ones (not that we don’t care if you have a cold, of course!). These include:

  1. Birth control

    You knew this would be first on our list. There are a bunch of telehealth companies out there that exist to make getting birth control easier for people, including Hers, GoodRx, Lemonaid Health, Nurx, Pandia Health, Pill Club, PillPack, Planned Parenthood Direct, PRJKT RUBY, Simple Health, and Twentyeight Health. They’re all a little bit different in terms of what birth control methods they offer, how they work, and where they’re available (we’ve got the full scoop here), but the gist is this: you answer some health questions online, a health care provider reviews your information and decides what type of birth control they’d recommend for you, they prescribe it to you if appropriate, and it gets mailed directly to your door. That’s it.

    (Keep in mind that some services offer virtual visits with a provider and some don’t. Also, some of these companies don’t prescribe birth control but will work with you to get your birth control delivered to you if you already have a prescription from your own provider.)

  2. Emergency contraception

    Lots of the telehealth companies that offer birth control also offer emergency contraception. Find out which ones here.

  3. STI testing and treatment

    Yes, that’s right. Some telehealth companies will actually mail you an STI testing kit that you can use all by yourself at home to take samples. Then you just mail in your samples and get your results online. Companies that offer this type of STI testing include Nurx (check out this video explaining how their process works), LetsGetChecked, myLAB Box, and Everlywell. Some of these companies also offer treatment for STIs if you test positive.

  4. Treatment for UTIs, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis

    GoodRx, Lemonaid, Planned Parenthood Direct, some insurance companies, and other services will provide consultation and UTI treatment without requiring you to physically go see a provider.

    For consultation with a provider and treatment of yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, check out wisp and virtuwell.

Don’t you need a Pap smear to get birth control?

Nope! You don’t need a Pap smear or a pelvic exam to get birth control. You just need to answer some basic health questions about your blood pressure and your health history.

Is telehealth good health care?

It absolutely can be. Tons of providers offer telehealth services, and while we obviously can’t vouch for all of them, we can say that health care providers who work in telehealth are real human beings who are required to fulfill the same licensing, education, and certification requirements as providers offering in-person care. And many of them DO offer in-person care as well.

Don’t just take our word for it though—there’s been research done on this very topic. And it’s shown that telehealth is a safe and effective way to get birth control, that STI testing via telehealth is accurate, and that UTI testing and treatment via telehealth is effective. There’s even a recent study that found that telehealth companies do as good a job—or perhaps an even better job—as in-person providers at identifying when a person has a health condition that would make taking birth control risky for them and NOT prescribing it for them.

What about privacy?

Your privacy and confidentiality have to be respected when you use telehealth just as much as they do when you go to an in-person visit.

Is telehealth totally impersonal?

No! There are so many different ways to use telehealth depending on what you’re looking to get out of the experience, but if you want to see and talk to a health care provider, there’s definitely an app for that, as they say.

Will insurance cover getting birth control via telehealth? Is it affordable without insurance?

Many insurance companies do cover telehealth services. Many insurance companies also offer their own telehealth services.

If you don’t have insurance, many of the telehealth companies offer low-cost options for getting your birth control. Find out more details about the costs for different companies here.

Who should try using telehealth to get birth control?

Telehealth is for anyone and everyone, so anybody who wants to try it should try it. That said, we find it’s especially helpful if:

  1. You can’t take time off work to go see a provider in person.
  2. You don’t feel comfortable going to a sexual health care provider in person.
  3. Your nearest provider is super far away.
  4. You live somewhere where there’s only one provider and you’re worried about confidentiality because they know your mom and go to the same grocery store as you.
  5. You have trouble getting your birth control refills (maybe you tend to forget until you run out, or maybe you just don’t like putting on pants so you can leave the house—no judgments!) and would like to take advantage of automatic refills and home delivery.

Stay tuned. Over the coming months, we’re going to be sharing more info with you about telehealth and the many ways it can make taking care of your sexual health easier.

Written by Lauren Kernan, MA

Lauren Kernan is the Director of Content and UX Strategy for Bedsider and Abortion Finder. In her spare time, she can be found sewing or starting and giving up on various other crafts.