To protect more women from unintended pregnancy during the Zika crisis, pharmacists should be fully engaged and enabled to provide much-needed contraceptive services.
A recent CDC report highlighted that Zika infections are of increasing concern, particularly in the summer travel months. To allow women and families to plan childbearing in the face of this threat, access to contraception is critical.
One evidence-based strategy to increase access to contraception in the United States is pharmacist prescribing, wherein patients can go directly to a pharmacy for contraceptive supplies. Pharmacists are well qualified to assess patient eligibility for contraceptive methods following review of patient-reported medical history, and measuring blood pressure. This may greatly increase access to prescription-only contraceptives, such as pills, patch, ring, and injection, while maintaining product coverage for insured patients. While 33-50% of United States residents do not have a medical home, nearly all live within 5 miles of a community pharmacy.
Prescriptive authority is granted at the state level. Eight states thus far (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, and Utah), as well as Washington D.C., have passed legislation allowing pharmacist prescribing of contraception via statewide protocol. Other states allow this under collaborative practice agreements (i.e., Washington), and 9 states allow pharmacists to prescribe emergency contraception pills, which has important implications for access and reimbursement for these products. Pharmacists in California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington are able to prescribe birth control and provide direct access to women—thanks to implementation of the state laws—and it will be happening soon in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Utah. That doesn't mean every pharmacy in those states is participating though. These are all relatively new laws, so patients should check with their pharmacy or check Birth Control Pharmacies to find a participating pharmacy near them.
The existing state protocols vary, particularly with respect to contraceptive methods allowed, and age restrictions. We strongly recommend that additional states adopt similar legislation to increase access to contraception via pharmacists prescribing. The legislation and protocols should be evidence-based, and include all contraceptive methods that are safe to use when self-administered or administered by a pharmacist, and exclude age and duration restrictions. In addition, states should consider reimbursement and implementation at the outset to facilitate widespread uptake by patients and pharmacies alike.
Community pharmacies are often available, and accessible for vulnerable, hard-to-reach populations. Pharmacies have expanded hours of operation on evenings, and weekends, are visited frequently, and would allow for a single visit for the clinical visit, and contraceptive supplies. In order to protect more women from unintended pregnancy during the Zika crisis, pharmacists should be fully engaged and enabled to provide much-needed contraceptive services.
There will be a podium presentation on this topic at the American Public Health Association meeting on November 13, 2018 in San Diego, California.
This article was co-written by Natalie DiPietro Mager, RPh, an associate professor of pharmacy practice at Ohio Northern University.