Today Planned Parenthood announced the expansion of its app, Planned Parenthood Direct. The organization had previously been piloting the smartphone-based service that prescribes and delivers birth control as well as medication for urinary tract infections. It will be available in all 50 states by 2020.
Planned Parenthood has dabbled in a variety of digital health products over the past few years, including a chatbot that answers questions about some of the most persistent sexual health inquiries teens might have. For more nuanced discussions, Planned Parenthood makes available sex educators, who can provide deeper guidance on sexual health issues around the clock. The Direct app focuses on getting treatment rather than getting answers.
“I’ve seen a patient who lives in the arctic circle and would have had to travel hundreds miles from her home to get to a healthcare center for her birth control prescription,” says Kelly Gordon, an advanced practice clinician at Planned Parenthood. “By meeting with a provider like me at Planned Parenthood Direct, she can send her medical history, get a response within 24 hours, and receive birth control pills delivered to her door a few days later.”
In addition to getting prescriptions, users can also book in-person appointments for annual exams and other services.
Gordon says she provides healthcare through Planned Parenthood Direct in seven states: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Washington, Arizona, Florida, and Georgia. “In every single one of those states, our app has been a game changer for those patients,” she says.
For anyone who lives in a rural or remote area or has an unforgiving work schedule, getting seen by a doctor can be difficult. That difficulty, Planned Parenthood would argue, is being exacerbated by politics. The organization’s big tele-health push comes as the Trump administration has gone to lengths to handicap Planned Parenthood’s ability to deliver care. Earlier this year, the White House made a change to Title X, a government grant that supports organizations providing family planning services to low-income families, barring participating organizations from referring patients to abortion services. In August, Planned Parenthood said it would be forced to remove itself from Title X funding.
Notably, the app only accepts debit, credit, and pre-paid cards as a way of paying. Users can only use their insurance to pay for medications if they opt to pick them up at a pharmacy.
“The Planned Parenthood Direct app is helping us to minimize barriers that keep so many from getting the critical healthcare they need,” says Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood.