Ensuring Contraceptive Access in a Telehealth World

Posted by Gary Mueller and Gary Parenteau
Nov 15, 2021

Wherever Telehealth Leads Your Patients, Follow Them

During the pandemic, especially the chaotic first months, telemedicine became a lifeline for people in need of healthcare services. With many providers temporarily closing their doors and others limiting the kinds of patients they’d treat, telemedicine visits surged almost 3,000 percent between 2019 and 2020.

Another way of looking at it: Before the pandemic, about 1 in 10 women and men received care during a telehealth or telemedicine visit. However, come December 2020, 32 percent of men and 38 percent of women reported seeing a provider on a digital platform.

For people seeking reproductive and sexual healthcare, community health centers and family planning affiliates stepped up to serve these patients. Some put together telehealth capabilities on the fly. Other health centers, trying to make sure patients who couldn’t come in for a physical visit had continued access to contraception, explored a variety of ways of distributing birth control. Providers scripted out to retail pharmacies or set up ad hoc mail delivery. Others even let patients pick up their pills in a drive-thru.

But telemedicine also presented many logistical challenges for safety net providers. Smaller staffs needed to administer COVID-19 testing and vaccines, leaving less time for reproductive and sexual healthcare services – which never seemed to get enough office space or resources even before the pandemic. These centers also lacked much of the technology infrastructure and staff training to run a robust telehealth program.

But even more concerning, these providers were unable to see as many patients in the clinics. They couldn’t conduct wellness exams, PAP smears, or STI screenings, even if patients were still getting their birth control outside the clinic.

While the pandemic will eventually end, it appears the trends around telemedicine will continue. Among younger generations (Gen Z, millennials and Gen X), about 70 percent said in a recent survey that they prefer telehealth because of convenience. Forty-four percent of Gen Z and millennials say they may even switch providers if they’re unable to offer telehealth visits in the future. What’s more, payers are increasingly behind telemedicine as a way to offer efficient, quality care.

How can these safety net providers ensure patients get access to the products and services they need in this new digital environment? The answer isn’t an easy one. It will be difficult for these providers, which are often understaffed and under-resourced, to develop telehealth capabilities that can rival those of privately funded, online-only providers. (Although we should note that only 4 percent of women ages 18-49 say they have ordered birth control from a website or app.)

Keeping patients the #1 priority

The most important thing for providers is to follow patients, wherever they go, and keep their interests the top priority. And this is where Afaxys can help.

We share community and public health providers’ mission of ensuring affordable access to all patients. For more than a decade, providers have counted on us to deliver the products and services they need to care for their patients. Long after the pandemic recedes, we’ll continue to put patients over profits.

How can Afaxys help, specifically? For one, we’re here to understand providers’ pain points. Through our consultative, white-glove service, we’ll work with providers to strategize the best ways to keep their health centers delivering for patients – whether that’s providing a full range of contraceptive options or helping them stock all of the necessary PPE to keep their doors open.

But we can also help patients get the birth control they need wherever they are in their own health journey. Through the Afaxys GPO, we can connect healthcare providers with third-party fulfillment providers and mail order delivery services to make it easier to order and distribute products. Or our large GPO network can even set up providers with telemedicine vendors to create their own digital telehealth presence. Learn more about what Afaxys GPO can do for its members.

The pandemic has taught us all to deal better with uncertainty. In the future, patients may return to in-person care in greater numbers, or they may continue their move into telehealth. Either way, it’s up to providers to be anywhere patients need them. Afaxys stands ready to join them.