Pharmacies may begin distributing birth control without a physician’s prescriptionBy Veita Bland, M.D. / March 31, 2023
The state of women’s health is in flux. Since recommendations were implemented by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that women do not need yearly pap smears, many women have foregone their annual Well Woman’s visit. This is especially so for women who no longer have a need for birth control. For those who still need pregnancy prevention, an annual Well Women’s visit has historically been the time to obtain a prescription and/or medication samples from a medical provider.
Today, health policy analysts believe that women in California will soon be able to access birth control without visiting a healthcare provider. Laws have been passed in that state that have given pharmacists the ability to evaluate a written application from a woman and then, if appropriate, write for certain birth control pills. Certainly, there are advantages and disadvantages to this process.
First, some advantages would include a more convenient manner of obtaining birth control. Certainly, not having to visit a healthcare provider will help certain people. Women who do not have healthcare or health insurance may have a more cost-effective manner of fulfilling their contraceptive needs. Women who have time issues with their jobs or life, may also find the new recommendations helpful and convenient. Pus, the cost of a visit to a healthcare provider may be eliminated.
Some disadvantages may involve women missing out of the benefits of having an annual Well Woman’s visit, since this exam is primarily used to assess a woman’s overall health. Without such a visit, there would be no checks on blood pressure, cholesterol, kidney function, anemia or a check for sexually transmitted infections. Without a Well Woman’s visit, women’s mental health would go unevaluated and general checks regarding how life is treating a woman would not be assessed. General education about health would not be shared annually, as it is currently done with such an exam.
In regards to distribution, a pharmacist may not possess the clinical medical skills to make medication decisions for patients they have not examined. Pharmacists alone have no way of knowing which type of birth control to give a patient because they do not possess the training to give a physical exam.
Birth control pills vary in hormone content depending on the age and needs of the patient. Some birth control pills contain progesterone only and are fairly safe. However, some pills that contain estrogen can cause blood clots and need closer scrutiny. Birth control pills do more than prevent pregnancy. They can help regulate the menstrual cycle, lower a woman’s risk of ectopic pregnancy, make periods lighter, ease menstrual cram, reduce acne and more.
Greater accessibility of birth control for women is a national issue and one that is being researched by the federal government in partnership with medical scientists. It is only realistic that some easing of this issue of access would come by allowing pharmacist to prescribe birth control. The concern is the loss of vital healthcare assessments for women, who forego Well Woman’s visits.
What will the future hold for those women, who were not evaluated by a physician and their hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, anemia, mental health issues and sexual diseases remain undiagnosed and untreated?
We must watch what may happen to women who lack healthcare and pharmacy access in their communities? Often, these are the women who have predisposing conditions such as hypertension of diabetes. Such conditions require a full examination and laboratory work by a physician prior to the patient consuming any type of birth control pill. Be an informed patient and consumer when it comes to your healthcare. It is truly important.
Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at email@example.com.