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Success of Innovative Chat/Text Program Highlights Ongoing Need for Digital Sex Education,
Shows Technology Can Help Young People Get Critical Health Information in Real Time

NEW YORK, NY—This week, Planned Parenthood is celebrating a milestone: one million conversations held as part of the organization’s innovative Chat/Text program, which allows young people with questions about their sexual and reproductive health to chat live with a trained health educator in real time, using text messaging or instant messaging

The unique program is the largest service of its kind and the largest digital sex education program in the United States. Last month alone, educators held 22,674 conversations with users, 57 percent of whom were young people of color. This month’s one millionth chat was with a young woman asking about unprotected sex and emergency contraception.

In this country, we know that too many young people are still being deprived of information critical to their sexual and reproductive health and to their overall well-being,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president and chief brand & experience officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “We’re incredibly proud of how successful the Chat/Text program has been in using technology to reach young people with the information they need to stay healthy and reach their life goals.

study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2016 found that the percentage of teens who received sex education dropped significantly between 2006 and 2013, particularly for those living in nonmetropolitan areas. The study showed that 21 percent of females and 35 percent of males didn’t receive any information about birth control from their parents or in school.

At Planned Parenthood, we recognize that technology has changed the way we communicate,” Laguens said. “Technology allows us to minimize barriers, such as time and transportation, which can prevent people from getting the timely health care they need. To serve young people who aren’t getting sex education in their schools, who live in rural areas, or who face other barriers to accessing accurate, compassionate sexual and reproductive health information that is relevant to their experiences, Planned Parenthood’s Chat/Text program offers personalized conversations with real educators in real time. We are proud to be revolutionizing the ways in which people receive accurate and tailored sex education information anywhere, any time, no matter what.

Planned Parenthood is committed to finding new ways to reach people wherever they are with information and connections to health care. A 2015 national survey found that among all media, the internet is the primary source of health information for teens, far surpassing books, TV, radio, newspapers, or magazines. Eighty-four percent of teens have gotten health information online, including information about STDs, puberty, and pregnancy. As well, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth often turn to online resources in search of accurate information on sexuality and sexual health.

We’re thrilled that so many young people have reached out to our Chat/Text service to get the information they need to make healthy decisions,” Laguens said. “Today’s technology makes it possible for young people who are looking for resources to access them in multiple ways, and Planned Parenthood is committed to providing accurate, nonjudgmental information to as many young people as possible, wherever they are and whenever they need it most. Being able to interact with a real person in real time can lower people’s anxiety and guide them to the next best step in taking care of their health. 

Chat/Text conversations provide personalized guidance based on each user’s questions and needs, and also relies on an evidence-based protocol rooted in behavioral science to help users create a plan to take the next step to improve their health.

Research has shown that the Chat/Text program is making a difference in users’ behavior: According to findings presented at the 2016 American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting, Chat/Text users are significantly more likely to seek care at a health center compared to those seeking sexual health information solely through the Planned Parenthood website. More than 33 percent of Chat/Text users went to a health center within 10 days of their conversation, compared to 26 percent of those who only visited the website. Within 90 days, nearly 56 percent of Chat/Text users had visited a health center, compared to 43 percent of website users. Chat/Text users were also significantly more likely to use condoms in addition to other forms of birth control, reducing risks of STD transmission, and they were also significantly more familiar with the most effective forms of birth control and more willing to use them.

The transcript segment below shows how Chat/Text helps young people get accurate information in times of anxiety and encourages them to make a plan and take steps to protect their health (names have been changed to protect privacy):

Sam* [Educator]: Hi, welcome. My name is Sam. What's yours?
Amy* [Visitor]: Hey Sam, my names Amy.
Sam: It's great that you have taken this step to contact Planned Parenthood, Amy. How may I help you?
Amy: Thanks, not going to lie I'm quite nervous. I've recently had sex without protection, my discharge has changed ever since, best thing for to do is to come in and get checked for stds right?
Sam: Yes, that would be the best way to get an accurate diagnosis of your change in discharge. Your doctor, a nurse, or the staff at the Mitchell Street Health Center can help you with that. Here's their address and phone number:
...
Amy: This would be my first visit, ever. So I'm not sure what exactly is going to happen
Sam: Be honest with the doctor or nurse about your sexual history and what risks you've taken, and the two of you can decide which tests are appropriate.
Amy: Will do. Thanks for your help and time Sam.
Sam: You're welcome, Amy! You may also find it helpful to know that you can get tested for some STDs, like gonorrhea and chlamydia, as soon as a few days after unprotected sex. Other STDs can take longer to show up. It can take up to three months for HIV to show up on a test.
Sam: Many people who have questions about STD testing would also like information about how to practice safer sex. Practicing safer sex can help to greatly reduce the possibility of STD transmission. Would you like more information about that?
Amy: No I'm good, I did some reading about having safer sex on this website before chatting with you, but thank you.
Sam: You're very welcome. Just to make sure I’ve been as helpful to you as possible, can you tell me what you plan to do about your situation after this chat?  
Amy: I just called in to make an appointment. Only thing available isn't until Thursday so the lady said I have to call tomorrow morning at 7am and see if they could get me in then
Sam: It's great that you're already taking next steps, Amy! Before we finish up, can you tell me if you found this chat helpful today?
Amy: Yes it did, I've been very nervous and scared just thinking about going in but chatting with you helped me realize I shouldn't be
Sam: Great! Thank you for chatting with Planned Parenthood. Save this link to our chat page in case you have more questions in the future and want to chat with us again.

*Names changed to protect privacy. You can read more Chat/Text transcripts herehere, and here.

Further Background on Planned Parenthood’s Chat/Text program:

  • Users can chat from the Planned Parenthood website at plannedparenthood.org/chat or text "PPNOW" to 774636 (PPINFO) to get answers about pregnancy, birth control, emergency contraception, STDs, and abortion.
  • Planned Parenthood’s Chat/Text program is offered:
    • Monday-Thursday: 9 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. ET
    • Friday: 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET
    • Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET
    • Sunday: 12 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. ET
  • Since its start in 2010, there have been more than one million conversations as part of Planned Parenthood’s Chat/Text program:
    • 48 percent of users are people of color
    • Users come from all 50 states
    • 79 percent of users are 15-24 years old (the age range for which the program was designed) and 91 percent of users are 29 years old or younger.
  • study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2013 showed that, in its first year, the program was able to successfully reach young people with critical information about sex and health when they were in need of fast, confidential help. It was shown to be successful in reducing worry, particularly among teens ages 17 and younger and Latino users.
  • Findings presented at the American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting in 2016 found that Planned Parenthood’s Chat/Text program has a significant impact on people’s health behaviors — including increasing health center visits, increasing use of condoms in addition to another method of birth control (“dual use”), and increasing interest in the most effective methods of birth control.

Planned Parenthood was founded on the idea that all people should have the information and care they need to live strong, healthy lives and fulfill their dreams,” Laguens said. “Today more than ever, Planned Parenthood is committed to providing quality health care and education to those who need it — and to using technology and digital tools to make sexual and reproductive health care and information easier to access than ever before.

Recently, Planned Parenthood was named as one of Fast Company’s top 10 innovative companies. As the nation’s largest provider of sex education, each year, Planned Parenthood provides sex education programs and outreach to 1.5 million people in schools and communities across the country. We also provide accurate, nonjudgmental information on our TumblrTwitterFacebook, and Instagram pages, and Planned Parenthood websites in English and Spanish receive more than 73 million visits in a year. In 2017, we redesigned and relaunched PlannedParenthood.org to better meet the needs of our millions of visitors: The site is now more user-friendly, mobile-friendly, gender-neutral, and health-literate for all users.

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 Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.