WASHINGTON — Question:
Are birth control pills ordered from online apps, such as NurX and Simple Health, safe and effective?
Generally speaking, yes. The Verify team spoke with health experts who said that these pills are typically safe and effective for the average person, although there's always a risk when patients do not visit the doctor first.
Nathaniel DeNicola: American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists
Study from New England Journal of Medicine
The Verify team first started to look into this subject when a 19-year-old named Gabriella sent an email with questions about these relatively new online apps.
"Something I am hoping your team can get verified is how safe these pills actually are," she said. "Or even if they work at all."
It's a question that is especially important in the time of COVID-19, when limiting trips out of the house is a good idea.
To get some insight, the Verify team reached out to Nathaniel DeNicola from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“I would recommend that she consider it," he said.
DeNicola said that these services are generally pretty safe for the average person. However, he emphasized that there is always a risk for patients that do not visit a doctor first. DeNicola said that doctors would likely be able to warn a patient about any underlying conditions that may make the pill a bad fit.
“There are some conditions where it’s important to talk with the doctor first," he said. "If you have a high risk of blood clots, if there is a family history or personal history of heart disease or diabetes, or if you smoke.”
Harvard Medical School Professor Ateev Mehrotra found a creative way to put this to the test. She conducted a “Secret Shopper” style analysis, where volunteers pretended to be patients and attempted to order these pills online.
In this study, 45 of the volunteers were assigned a fake “condition or factor” that would be a reason to not receive birth control. In the end, only three out of the 45 were permitted to get the birth control, despite their conditions.
Researchers pointed out this was often because they presented “rare conditions” that “might easily be missed during an in-person visit, too.”
In the end, these online services are generally considered safe for those already cleared to take the pills. However, according to the medical experts, those taking the pill for the first time, are encouraged to see a doctor first.