An ongoing debate we often see discussed in the media is the growing trend for women to access the 'morning after pill' also known as Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC) online and whether this is putting their health at risk.
For many women, accessing EHC online removes the embarrassment factor of a face to face conversation with a healthcare professional. There is also the added convenience - trying to get a GP appointment at short notice is not always easy, so being able to request the pill at a time that suits them is perfect for women with busy lifestyles.
As a result, more online providers are emerging. However, as with offline services women need to be sure they are using a reputable provider and that they are being asked the right questions. For example, it's important for the doctor to know if the patient is breastfeeding, whether they are taking other medications (including herbal ones), and about other forms of contraception such as the IUD or 'coil'.
As the first online service to offer EHC in 2009 we at Lloydspharmacy Online Doctor have a wealth of experience in this area and of course have these important checks in place. We would also urge other providers to do the same.
Although some people may still view accessing a doctor over the internet as unusual, in reality we have more than half a million patients. And, it's not just the young who have embraced the convenience and discretion of our online doctors - we have patients who are in their 70s.
If you're not familiar with our EHC process, we require patients to complete a detailed questionnaire, just like the questions you'd expect to receive if you visited your GP or pharmacist. The information is then reviewed by one of our UK-based doctors to check if it's appropriate for you to take. We also monitor the amount of EHC our patients are ordering and will contact patients if we feel they are at risk of over use and advise accordingly.
My view is being able to access EHC discreetly and conveniently online is a good thing, so long as it is provided by reputable providers who are registered with the Care Quality Commission. What concerns me is that some people are accessing medication from sources that may not have suitable checks in place. This is an issue that regulators and the industry as a whole are trying to address.
EHC should be available to those who need it - unwanted pregnancy is a problem in this country and patients should have the freedom of choice to decide how they protect themselves. We would always advise that patients also use alternative methods of contraception, such as condoms, but you can't escape the fact that accidents can and do happen so it's crucial that people have somewhere they can go easily and quickly.