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Two innovative Planned Parenthood affiliates are pushing past their brick-and-mortar clinic walls into the virtual reality of cyberspace by offering on-line medical assessments for emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) prescriptions.
"We think on-line prescribing provides a very unique opportunity to provide access to women with a very unique medication, and that is emergency contraception," says Steve Trombley, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood — Chicago Area. "Given that emergency contraception has no contraindications that would prevent it from being prescribed, it is uniquely suited to being delivered on-line."
Women are quickly finding out about the Emergency Contraception EC4U service, which just went on-line in late 2000, says Trombley. With no formal marketing, the program already has written more than 300 prescriptions, he reports. (The service is available on the Planned Parenthood — Chicago Area’s web site, www.ppca.org, as well as www.EC4U.org.)
A comprehensive marketing program was set to kick off as of Contraceptive Technology Update’s press time, and Trombley says he expects the program will write 300 prescriptions per month when the campaign swings into gear.
Planned Parenthood of Georgia in Atlanta expanded its EC Connection toll-free prescribing hotline to include on-line medical assessments about a year ago, says Kay Scott, the affiliate’s president and CEO. (Editor’s note: Access the web site through www.ecconnection.org or Planned Parenthood of Georgia’s site, www.ppga.org.)The program recently was recognized for its success at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) leadership conference held in Dallas. (The EC Connection toll-free telephone program was highlighted in CTU, June 1999, p. 64.)
The Georgia program continues to offer access to ECPs through its toll-free telephone connection, says Scott. However, because most of the women who want EC can access a computer, more requests are coming from the Web site. About three-fourths of the requests for the EC Connection come over the Internet, she estimates.
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Due to state prescribing laws, both the Georgia and Chicago Area EC programs are available only to their respective state’s residents. Both programs charge $40, payable by credit card, for the medical assessment. Cost of the prescriptions, which are filled at local pharmacies or picked up at Planned Parenthood clinics, are separate.
To request ECPs through the Georgia program, women must first read an on-line consent form and an instruction sheet. The information subsequently is electronically transmitted to a Planned Parenthood nurse practitioner. Once the information is received, a Planned Parenthood employee makes telephone contact with the patient to review it, and a prescription is called into the patient’s preferred pharmacy, or if she desires, may be picked up at a local Planned Parenthood clinic. The Georgia EC Center operates from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 1-4:30 p.m. If requests are submitted on-line when the center is closed, with patients’ permission, someone will contact them as soon as possible the following day.
"What is frustrating about our 1-800 service is that it is about a 20-minute phone conversation where you go through a medical history form," says Scott. "We decided that writing a program and offering an option on-line would save the frustration and probably get so much better information."
The Chicago Area’s EC4U program is similar to the Georgia program; however, it does not entail a separate telephone call from the program. Women review EC information, give consent, and submit a short medical assessment online. The information is reviewed by a health care professional, who sends an e-mail confirmation when the prescription is ready. Instructions are included on how to take EC, as well as information about long-term birth control methods.
The EC4U service hours are Monday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Friday 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; and Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. On-line assessments submitted outside of the operating hours listed do not receive a prescription confirmation until the following morning; if an assessment is submitted after operating hours on Saturday, confirmation is not transmitted until Monday morning.
Planned Parenthood — Chicago Area has budgeted about $200,000 for its comprehensive marketing program for the EC4U program, says Trombley. The first phase kicks off with an advertising component, placing posters and wallet-sized pamphlets in women’s bathrooms in more than 150 Chicago bars and nightclubs. The eye-catching posters feature illustrations of a sperm and a computer mouse, dubbed "Sammy the Sperm" and "Mack the Mouse," with the caption, "The Race is On." The pamphlets give details about emergency contraception and the EC4U service.
An e-mail campaign will follow, which will allow targeted recipients to get information about the program, as well as pass it along to their friends. Planned Parenthood — Chicago Area also will be working with college sororities and campus women’s groups to promote events around emergency contraception.
The campaign will wrap up in the fall of 2001 with a large-scale event featuring Drew Pinsky, MD, from the MTV Loveline television program. The affair will be co-hosted by a local radio station, which is offering information about the EC4U program on its own web site.
"Our agency and our board of directors are 100% behind making emergency contraception more available to our clients, the women who need it," says Trombley. "We think this is the most cost-effective way to do it."
• For more information on the Planned Parenthood — Chicago Area EC4U program, contact its director, Chris Williams, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• For more information on the Planned Parenthood of Georgia EC Connection program, contact its vice president for marketing and communication, Leola Reis, at email@example.com.