Planned Parenthood is now making house calls.
The agency announced Wednesday that it has launched a pilot project in Minnesota and Washington state for clients to get birth control services online and soon will be adding counseling for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that includes a mail-order, do-it-yourself treatment kit for those who need it.
The online service has been up and running for about a week in both states, two of Planned Parenthood's larger offices nationwide. The service connects patients to a Planned Parenthood provider through a secure video portal. Mobile apps are available.
"Our patients are between the ages of roughly 18 and 29, so they are millennials, and they are used to being on [the] cutting edge of technology adaptation," said Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
"Planned Parenthood is not their mother's Planned Parenthood," she said. "We have really evolved."
The online service is available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily in Minnesota, and weekdays in Washington. Although the two agencies also cover the Dakotas, Alaska and Idaho, online services won't be provided in those other states at this time because of legal restrictions.
Stoesz said the first person to use the service in Minnesota was new to Planned Parenthood. She had run out of birth control and her regular physician couldn't see her as quickly as she liked, so she went online and discovered the service.
"When a woman needs birth control, she really, really needs it," Stoesz said. "If we are going to be relevant to them we have to be their online provider."
The service is expected to be especially appealing to clients living in rural areas who don't have ready access to a clinic. Providers initially will counsel patients about the best means of birth control. In October, they will begin STD consultations.
Lisa Christensen, Planned Parenthood's director of advance practice nurses and physician assistants in Minnesota, said providers will be focusing on chlamydia and gonorrhea. The Minnesota Department of Health is pushing everybody younger than 25 to be tested at least yearly, and more often if they have multiple partners, she said.
State records show that chlamydia is the most commonly reported communicable disease in Minnesota. "From an all-time low of 115 cases per 100,000 in 1996, the incidence of chlamydia has tripled to 353 per 100,000 in 2013," according to the most recent Health Department report on STDs. The report said gonorrhea rose 26 percent last year and was up from 64 to 73 per 100,000 people in the past 10 years.
Online users can have chlamydia medications sent to them. Patients with gonorrhea are advised to get to a clinic for an injection, but medications can be prescribed for those who can't make it to one, Christensen said.
Jen Aulwes, communications director for Planned Parenthood in Minnesota, said there were about 46,000 unintended pregnancies in the state in 2012, the most recent data available. "That has an effect on all of us in our community," she said. "That cost taxpayers $72 million."
Aulwes said online services are one of the fastest-growing trends in health care.
"We're really excited to be launching this effort and to be increasing our ability to reach more patients in Minnesota with basic reproductive and sexual health care," she said.