Telehealth Expands Sexual And Reproductive Health
Virtual care is opening up access to sexual and reproductive health services
As discussions around sexual and reproductive health continue with Roe v. Wade, many are looking to address other barriers to women’s, men’s and the LGBTQ+ community’s sexual and reproductive health care.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), those situated in rural and/or low income areas, as well as young adults, have seen an increase in sexually transmitted disease (STD) cases since 2016. Specifically, syphilis cases are up 52% and congenital syphilis is up 235%. HIV transmissions are, thankfully, still on a decline but the transmission disparities remain.
The healthcare gap is still there and it exists in almost every speciality and field. Telehealth has shown it can be one of its solutions. In this blog, we’ll define what sexual and reproductive health care is, how telehealth fits in and the benefits of virtual care.
Defining sexual and reproductive health
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality”; it’s not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.
Similarly, the WHO defines reproductive health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes.”
Where does telehealth come in?
Telehealth and telemedicine act as the bridge between barriers. It offers patients in rural areas and those with lower incomes the ability to seek and receive quality care.
Virtual care can connect primary care providers and specialists like obstetricians, gynecologists, OBGYNs and urologists to patients seeking sexual and reproductive health services. It’s important to note that virtual care does not replace certain in-person visits such as prostate exams, mammograms, pelvic exams and others. However, it can act as an excellent treatment, prescription and symptom management tool paired with certain in-person care.
Types of telehealth services offered:
Sexually Transmitted Infection/STD care
Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP or PrEP)
Postpartum depression care
Virtual care benefits
As mentioned above, the number of cases for certain STDs like syphilis are rising. Often, these cases are specific to groups who experience disparities to health care and sexual education. The introduction of more affordable care encourages these patients to seek preventative care services like STI/STD screenings and health checks.
However, it’s hard to know when to seek care if you don’t know what to look for. Offering accessible healthcare and resources via telehealth can increase the level of sexual and reproductive health knowledge among disparate groups. In fact, studies have shown just that.
This study on the “Effects of telehealth interventions for adolescent sexual health” found an increase in self-efficacy for condom use, practice for condom use and being screened/tested for STIs/STDs with telehealth interventions.
Access to methods of contraception
With the state of Roe vs. Wade still uncertain, access to contraception and birth control is in more of a demand than ever. Additionally, the health care system is still suffering from provider shortages that make it hard to see patients for regular in-person check ups.
Telehealth, with its ability to reach patients from anywhere, has been an incredible tool for this. Providers are able to prescribe contraception and manage symptoms while mitigating the burnout felt across the industry. Additionally, patients have easier access to affordable contraceptives regardless of where they live.
It shows in the data too. Prior to the pandemic, telehealth accounted for only 1.5% of contraceptive visits. It now accounts for 30.5% in parity states (requiring commercial payer coverage), and 21.6% in non-parity states.
Telehealth also offers an extra layer of privacy for some patients. Often times, health care concerning sexual and/or reproductive health can be hard for patients to discuss with their providers. Giving them a platform where those face-to-face stressors or fear of judgment are removed can help patients open up about their health concerns. As a result, they’re more likely to get the care they need.
Culturally competent providers
It’s important to remember that many cultures, religions, beliefs and spiritualities have strong views on sexuality and reproduction. Hiring and being a provider who takes the time to understand their patient and what they are comfortable with is highly important.
According to a study in the National Library of Medicine “The Joint Commission (TJC) requires hospitals to be accountable for maintaining patient rights, including accommodation for cultural, religious, and spiritual values.” That means caring for a patient's whole person; mind, body and spirit.
For many communities dealing with health care disparities and those living rurally, in person access to culturally competent providers could be difficult to come by. Telehealth removes the barriers to providers by allowing the patient and the clinician to meet in the middle via remote care. This enables patients to stay within the bounds of their religion and cultural beliefs while also getting the quality of care they need.
Powering sexual and reproductive health
Now that you know a little more about telehealth’s role in sexual and reproductive health, we’d like to introduce OpenLoop. We’re a telehealth company supporting other telehealth companies with our suite of unrivaled support services. OpenLoop partners with hospitals and clinics across the country to match patients with our vast network of multi-state licensed and credentialed clinicians to deliver the best in virtual care.
Interested in what we can do for your organization? Get in touch here!
Our full suite of Telehealth Support Services include: