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How to get hormonal birth control online
Getting your birth control with a click of the mouse can be as safe and effective as visiting your doctor — and more convenient. Here’s what you need to know.
These days, it seems you can get anything online: groceries, academic degrees and even hormonal birth control. That’s great news for women, given how inconvenient and sometimes uncomfortable it can be to travel to the doctor’s office and pharmacy for a birth control prescription.
For women who live far from a doctor’s office or pharmacy — or can’t get an appointment with their doctor right away — having quick online access can be life-changing. According to one recent survey of people in 15 U.S. cities, patients were waiting an average of 24 days to schedule a new patient appointment. Nearly one-third of oral contraceptive users say they have missed taking their birth control because they were unable to get their next supply in time, according to a 2020 women’s health survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
And for busy women, having the telemedicine option means your reproductive well-being and sex life don’t have to take a backseat.
“One of the main benefits of telemedicine and the ability to access hormonal contraception online without seeing the doctor is convenience,” says Maureen Whelihan, MD. She’s a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist in Greenacres, Florida. “No missed work time, no need for a babysitter. It can essentially be done at any convenient time for the patient.”
Plus, with the ongoing pandemic, many people may prefer getting their prescriptions mailed to them instead of going into a store or a doctor’s office. Intrigued? Read on to learn when and how to get birth control online.
When to get birth control online
There are several situations in which it may be ideal to go the online route for hormonal birth control, which includes contraceptive pills, contraceptive patches and vaginal rings:
- Your existing prescription ran out and you need a renewal quickly.
- You recently moved and haven’t found a new doctor yet.
- You received your last prescription from an urgent care center and they don’t offer renewals.
- You feel uncomfortable talking about birth control with a doctor face-to-face.
- You live in a rural area or have trouble getting to a pharmacy or doctor’s office.
- You can’t get an appointment with your doctor for weeks and you need birth control soon.
- You’re traveling and have decided to extend your stay but don’t have enough of your medication with you — or you forgot to bring it.
Or you may simply prefer the convenience of having your medication mailed to your door. In any case, ordering hormonal birth control online is a great choice for many women.
How online pharmacies work
Many online pharmacies provide the option of getting hormonal birth control delivered to your front door. But before you can get birth control online, you usually have to go through an assessment process, which you can do on your own time.
This is an important first step to determine whether hormonal birth control is a medically safe choice for you. The process is similar to the type of review a doctor or nurse practitioner would provide in an office setting. But instead of talking with a doctor face-to-face, you’ll fill out a medical form online.
While this may seem unusual, filling out a form online is as reliable as an in-person visit. In fact, research published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that telemedicine screenings are safe. And in certain cases, they even meet a higher standard than some clinics that provide in-person visits.
The online form varies depending on the network providing the service. But generally it will ask you about the following:
- Your health history, including whether you smoke or have a history of high blood pressure
- Medications (including your current birth control)
- Treatment goals (for example, do you want to switch your birth control for a specific reason, or do you simply want a renewal of an existing prescription?)
- Any symptoms that need to be addressed
You can fill out the form when it suits you — between work phone calls at your desk, in an Uber on your phone, while your baby is napping — and submit it when you’re ready. You may also need to upload a photo ID for verification.
Once you submit your medical form, a health care provider will review it and determine if you’re a good candidate for getting birth control online.
At the Optum Store, all assessments are done by a licensed Optum network doctor, so you can feel confident you’re receiving a high standard of professional care. You’ll be notified of their decision soon thereafter, generally within 24 hours.
If you’re approved, you’ll receive information about the prescription birth control they’ve chosen for you. If you’re already taking hormonal birth control and would like to stick with that particular method, the doctor will try to keep you on it. But they may suggest another choice, if the doctor feels it’s safer.
Once approved, you’ll get your birth control shipped to you in discreet packaging, usually within a day or 2.
If you need a prescription renewal, you can fill it through the Optum Store and have it sent directly to your home for free. No insurance or coupons needed. Learn more.
Why you might get turned down for hormonal birth control online
If the doctor determines hormonal birth control is not a good fit for you, it may be that they simply need more medical information from you. In that case, they may advise that you see a doctor in your area for an additional evaluation. Perhaps you need an updated blood pressure reading, for example. Once you have it, you can resubmit your assessment with the updated information.
But the doctor may also determine hormonal birth control is not a fit for you because of the information listed on your medical form. Not every woman is a good candidate, so it’s important to provide accurate and complete information. Some underlying health conditions and lifestyle factors may raise your risk of harmful effects when taking hormonal birth control.
The following risk factors in particular are red flags. “These are the 3 I’m most concerned about with getting birth control online,” Dr. Whelihan says.
- Cigarette smoking. Women who are 35 and older and smoke should not be on estrogen-containing birth control. Estrogen can raise the risk of heart problems and stroke in women who smoke.
- High blood pressure (hypertension). Estrogen in hormonal birth control can increase the thickness of your blood. So women who already have hypertension may be at an even higher risk of a heart attack or stroke.
- Blood-clotting disorders. Women with a blood-clotting disorder (such as factor V Leiden) typically aren’t a good fit for estrogen-containing birth control. It can raise their risk of blood clots, says Dr. Whelihan.
So if you have any of these risk factors, skip the online route and go to a doctor in person. Your doctor can run blood tests and keep tabs on any underlying conditions to make sure that your birth control method is safe and effective.
Another reason Dr. Whelihan says that a woman may want to schedule an in-person visit: critical reproductive health screenings. “When young women come in for birth control, we’re able to do a pap smear for a cervical cancer screening [based on age] and screen them for sexually transmitted infections [STIs] such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.”
She says that there is a risk that younger women may blow off these critical regular screenings if they don’t visit a doctor or clinic when accessing birth control.
The bottom line: Online pharmacies play an important role
For many women, an online pharmacy offers a convenient and safe way to get birth control. Accessing hormonal birth control online may even be more affordable. Cost is something that some women cite as a barrier to getting their preferred birth control. As brick-and-mortar clinics face understaffing, telemedicine options are becoming more important to fill in the gaps.
But as handy as online pharmacies can be for birth control, they are not a replacement for regular well-woman visits with your ob-gyn. That’s where your doctor will do those key health screenings.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women should see their ob-gyn for a well-woman visit and pelvic exam at least once a year. It may also be recommended that they get a pap smear (usually every 3 years), human papillomavirus testing or other STI testing. This all depends on age, risk factors and test results.
Overall, online pharmacies, primary care doctors and ob-gyns can each be a part of an essential care team that helps keep you healthy and happy.
Is it time to rethink your current contraception? Ask yourself these 5 questions to find out if your birth control still fits your life.
Assessment of online contraception access: Kaiser Family Foundation (2021). "Contraception 2.0: Findings of a National Study of Online Contraception Platforms"
Birth control access study: Kaiser Family Foundation (2021). "Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health Services: Key Findings from the 2020 KFF Women's Health Survey"
Wait times: Merritt Hawkins (2017). "2017 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times"
NEJM study on safety and online birth control: New England Journal of Medicine (2019). "A Study of Telecontraception"
Hormonal contraception and high blood pressure: Journal of the American Medical Association (2020). "Hormonal Contraception in Women With Hypertension"
Hormonal contraception and blood clots: University of Michigan Health Michigan Medicine (2020. "Hormonal Birth Control: Risk of Blood Clots"
Women’s health screening guidelines: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2021). "Updated Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines"; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). "Screening Recommendations and Considerations Referenced in Treatment Guidelines and Original Sources"