In a move squarely designed to ensure that women have access to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains is rolling out PP Direct — its new telemedicine healthcare initiative for rural women.

A recent conversation with the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains Vicki Cowart provided an overview of the health organization she leads, and the expanding focus on rural service areas. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains serves a wide range of patients through 24 Planned Parenthood clinics across four states; Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, an area it has served for 100 years. It also assists with women’s health needs in rural Wyoming. The Salida Planned Parenthood Clinic is located at 233 E. 2nd St.

President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains Vicki Cowart. (Courtesy photo)

Much of Planned Parenthood’s work is in rural areas, where women’s access to health care is often limited. Cowart said she is particularly proud of the new telemedicine service to expand women’s healthcare options.

“PP Direct is an app on your phone that allows you to interact with a licensed clinician, giving women access to health services such as birth control, or to get treatment of urinary tract infections, things like that,” said Cowart. She noted that last year, its clinics served more than 100,000 men, women and children.

The telemedicine service is expected to expand that number. “They can get help while on their lunch break, or from their kitchen, without having to come into a clinic,” added Cowart. She noted that often, the distance from clinics is a barrier to rural women getting the healthcare access they need.

“It is a great tool for service for folks who live in rural areas – it’s also used by urban people who can’t get to a center. The new Telemedicine service, called PP Direct, is available 24/7. It doesn’t matter what time of day, you can have this interaction. Our medical care is based on highly trained nurse practitioners, and our specialty is in women’s health.”

The growing familiarity of the population with mobile phone apps underlies the launch of this remote telemedicine service.

“It’s pretty cool – regardless of generations, we are becoming familiar with using apps,” said Cowart. “This is a robust app – you indicate what you’re calling for, and it connects you with services. If you need to speak with somebody, you put in info, which goes to a licensed clinician who will get back to you within 24 hours. The interactive process can also get you to a prescription, and if needed, we can overnight the medicine to the individual.”

In other instances, said Cowart, Planned Parenthood can also send prescriptions to your normal pharmacy. Prescription services through telemedicine can range from a three-month supply of birth control pills to a 14-day regime for things like urinary tract infections. “It really is based on an interaction with a nurse practitioner.”

Planned Parenthood quietly began testing the service in April of this year and has been rolling it out across its service area. “The app is launched and live right now, and we are routinely seeing people. There is still work we’re doing. Right now, it’s available for self-pay only – so a credit card is needed,” said Cowart. “We are working on getting it connected to insurance, so that lack won’t be an impediment to access. We are working to get it connected to Medicaid – we are working with the state Medicaid and Public Health Departments to expand access.”

“As the access to abortion shrinks across the country, telemedicine is one strategy for expanding patients’ access to safe, legal abortion, including for those [women] living in remote or rural areas. At Planned Parenthood, we conduct research and support innovation so we can find new ways to expand people’s access to services and offer the best health care to our patients,” said Dr. Julia Kohn, national director of research, evaluation, and data analytics for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and lead author of a study regarding telemedicine outcomes. “This study confirms what we know firsthand: Telemedicine can improve health equity by ensuring that more people have access to the care they need — including abortion — in a timely manner, by reducing the barriers that make it harder for people to get care, including securing transportation, childcare, and time off work.”

Cowart was blunt in her assessment of women’s health care options across the nation. “One of the reasons we are so focused on this rural access is that we are facing a manmade public health crisis – there are threats to Title 10, to Roe v. Wade. Women’s reproductive rights are being threatened in ways we have not seen for decades.”

“The Supreme Court may take on consideration of a decision we just got three years ago – the court with [Brett] Kavanaugh will be looking at a law coming out of Louisiana,” said Cowart. “In Texas, it was batted down, but that exact same set of facts now will be taken on by the Supreme Court. It is unprecedented that they would look at something [so soon after a ruling] they just reviewed.”

I do want to raise the alarm. We anticipate as a result of the [Supreme] Court acting on this law, they will find there is no case too extreme. In about 18 months, 25 million women of reproductive age will be living in a dark state – women in this country needing health care; anybody who needs an abortion is going to be on the road.”

Cowart says Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountain’s 24 health centers across its service area represent a great deal of expertise. “We are getting ready for travelers …we’ve seen 800 coming to our health centers that offer abortion. We do provide a two-pill regime overnight via telemedicine as well, with a direct connection to our doctor.”

The situation regarding access for reproductive rights, according to Cowart, is not good. In fact, it is going to get worse before it gets better. But Cowart says there may be a silver lining.

“Planned Parenthood nationwide is on our political side – supporting the folks working to elect strong champions to state and federal positions. It has just announced a $45 million campaign, and Colorado is one of the states that we are going to focus on. We have a U.S. senate race [the Cory Gardner senate race] that will be important to women’s rights.”

Cowart added that there may be a ballot question regarding women’s reproductive rights coming on the state level next year. “It’s winding its way through the petition process. That puts us in the high tier for awareness. …stay tuned that we can deliver good news in Colorado to support women’s access to reproductive health care, infection care, including medicine-induced abortion – including abortion….our citizens have spoken loudly.”

To download the PP Direct app go to www.plannedparenthooddirect.org

For more information about Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains

www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-rocky-mountains

For more information on research and facts on reproductive health www.guttmacher.org