All hormonal contraceptives are currently available by prescription only, with the exception of levonorgestrel emergency contraception. This prescription requirement creates many barriers for patients. Expanding the pharmacist’s scope of practice to allow prescribing these medications gives our patients the option to make a single trip to the pharmacy for both a clinical visit and birth control supplies.
The role of pharmacists and pharmacies in birth control services has been expanding rapidly. More than 1,100 pharmacies now offer birth control services in seven states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Several other states are in the process of implementing programs. State policies vary and may allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills, patches, vaginal rings, depot injections, and emergency contraception pills. The Birth Control Pharmacist website tracks information about which state policies allow what kinds of birth control services from pharmacists.
Offering birth control services is an opportunity for pharmacies to attract new patients and retain existing ones. With competing pressures from mail order pharmacies and telehealth services, it is important that brick and mortar pharmacies be known as a point of direct access to birth control. Pharmacies are often conveniently located and generally are open longer, which gives additional opportunities for people who can’t make it to a traditional clinic or physician office. The local pharmacy is more accessible than mail or telehealth services for many people.
Pharmacies have always been an important point of access for OTC contraceptives including barrier methods (eg, condoms), spermicides, and emergency contraception, as well as for pregnancy tests and other reproductive health products. Prescribing more hormonal methods is an important expansion of existing services and offerings. More than 99% of women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method, with oral contraceptives as the most popular.
Patients need to be made aware that these services may exist at their local pharmacy. They need to become common knowledge through public awareness campaigns and promotions in the pharmacy such as posters, bag stuffers, and buttons worn by staff. Market the birth control service online and in the local community to attract new patients.
The Birth Control Pharmacies website helps patients know what to expect when visiting a pharmacy for birth control and connects patients with participating pharmacies near them. Any pharmacy that is offering birth control services can submit their information and be added to the website’s directory.