The rise of online birth control pill subscription services provides alternative access for Australian women

For some women, seeing a doctor to renew their prescription for birth control pills can be expensive, inconvenient, or in some cases downright stressful.

Instead, many are now turning to new online subscription services that allow people to get new scripts online and the pill delivered to their door.

Gloria, who did not want to use her real name, signed up last year during the first wave of COVID outbreaks.

“I felt uncomfortable going into a doctor’s surgery and waiting for a manuscript when I did not really need to go to the doctor for it, when I knew what I needed and it would not be any different than that, I was on. already, “she said.

“So I had a little Google and came across this pill subscription service and thought I would give it a try.

These types of services are also available abroad, but have only appeared in Australia in the last year and a half.

How do these services work?

First, they will not give a manuscript for the pill to a woman who has either never been on one before or has had serious side effects, instead they refer women to get a face-to-face consultation with a GP.

If a woman is eligible, however, they will be directed to an online questionnaire where they answer questions that a doctor usually asks such as their height, weight, whether they smoke, what their blood pressure is, if they know it, and any family history of medical conditions.

Then a GP who works for the service reviews the answers, and the woman has an online conversation about what kind of pill she is taking or has taken before and what she wants going forward.

A woman with a braid on her left shoulder wearing an acubra and smiling at the camera with agricultural equipment behind her
Lucy Capel says being able to have the pill delivered has been a “lifesaver”.(Delivered)

“I think I was expecting some risky chatbot, but it’s an excellent user experience … and after a year or so of using it, I’m pretty sure that if something felt wrong, or if I was not quite sure what I was going to do I could contact them and they would immediately reassure me, “Gloria said.

In addition to the potential benefit of the pandemic, the services are also useful for women living in regional and remote Australia – like the station’s hand Lucy Capel – who cannot easily access a doctor or pharmacist.

Ms Capel lives at an outback station in a remote area on Carpentaria Bay in northern Queensland, where the nearest GP is a three-hour drive away.

“The pill is quite important, you want to make sure you are protected and live out here, compared to living so far away that we have a wet season up here, so for three to five months of the year you can not get into town [and] to see a doctor would literally be impossible, go to the pharmacy – do not even think about it, “she said.

For Gloria, past bad experiences with GPs when she has gone to get birth control pills have also made the online alternative much more attractive.

“There is a sense of judgment that I have felt and I know my friends have felt,” she said.

Removal of awkward pharmacy trips

Nic Blair is the founder of a service that was launched this year and said the recording from women had shown that there was a demand for alternative options.

“The feedback has not only been positive, but it has also been confirmed that the problem we are trying to solve has existed and that the service actually meets these requirements and needs, I think, to make people’s lives more comfortable and their health experience better.” he said.

In addition to the pill, Mr Blair’s service also allows people to order and have medicines that are only available at the pharmacy, such as morning-after pills and thrush treatments.

“It also provides a discreet platform for people to access the treatments they need without fear of judging or facing an awkward conversation with a number of people behind you at a pharmacy,” he said.

As he and Gloria point out, fear can sometimes mean people avoid getting the treatment they need.

While these new services offer an online alternative, the issue of women’s access to birth control pills is also being considered by the country’s medical supervisory authority.

In a recent preliminary ruling, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) blocked requests that the pill be sold over the counter at pharmacies.

The head of the TGA, Professor John Skerritt, said a final decision was expected “before Christmas”.

Risk of online consultations: AMA

While some women have welcomed the services, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) believes that there are trade-offs for women’s health when consulting online.

Dr. SA, President of the Australian Medical Association  Chris Moy.
Dr. Chris Moy says that general practitioners’ ability to perform physical examinations is “essential” for a proper assessment.(ABC News: Claire Campbell)

Dr. Chris Moy, a general practitioner and vice president of the AMA, said that although he understood the convenience of online services, women only need to see a doctor once a year to have their manuscript renewed, which should not be a big issue.

“In terms of either a lack of complete knowledge of your medical history or the fact that what you think your history is may be different from what is required to make a proper assessment.

“But even this person will not be able to conduct a physical examination, which may be crucial to make a proper assessment of what needs to be prescribed and the most appropriate treatment for you.”

Dr. Moy is also concerned that the specific focus of the services may mean that GPs are missing out on how problems in the body may be related.


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