What do you do if you need birth control, an STI test, or want to start gender affirming hormone therapy, but are living through a global pandemic? Try a telehealth appointment! Thankfully, many providers, including PPIL, are now offering telehealth services so you can get the essential care you need without having to leave the house.
But how does a telehealth appointment work for reproductive and sexual health care? We’ve asked Yvonne Oldaker, PPIL’s Associate Medical Director, to answer some common questions about virtual appointments.
What can I expect when I make a PPIL telehealth appointment?
Once you make your appointment, you'll receive an email with a personal link. You’ll want to save this so you can access your appointment at the scheduled day and time. You’ll also get another email with consent, HIPPA release form, and insurance forms. If you don’t have insurance, don’t worry. PPIL’s sliding scale fees apply to both in person and virtual appointments.
On the day and time of your appointment, your link will go live and you can log on as early as ten minutes before your appointment time, if you’re worried about being late. You can access your appointment either on a computer or via your phone, using our telehealth app. We recommend you test your technology ahead of time, so you feel comfortable and aren’t scrambling to troubleshoot as your appointment begins.
Once we are ready for you, you’ll be admitted from our virtual waiting room and greeted by a Reproductive Health Assistant (RHA). The RHA will verify your personal information, insurance status, and do a medical intake, where they will ask for your height, weight, and medical history. The RHA will also do an STI risk screening to determine if testing and treatment is needed.
Once your intake is complete, there will be a short wait as the clinician connects. Our telehealth appointments generally run about 30 minutes but if you need longer, we have time to talk.
Do I have to get undressed and position my screen so the clinician can see any problems?
(Laughs) No, there’s no need to set yourself up to do a pseudo-exam. In fact, telehealth can be done in your pajamas, from a comfortable place in your home.
Our telehealth appointments are for talking through specific symptoms, so we can diagnose the issue and provide needed care and follow-up treatment. Based on our discussion, we may send needed prescriptions to the pharmacy of your choice. If your symptoms don’t clear up after you complete the medication, we may advise you to make an in-person appointment, so we can better assess what’s going on.
If your symptoms are beyond what is typical for a clear diagnosis, we may ask you to make an in-person appointment instead.
What services do you offer via telehealth?
Our clinicians can answer patients’ questions, manage their prescriptions, and help address sexual and reproductive health care needs remotely, including contraceptive counseling, emergency contraception and pregnancy options counseling. We can diagnose and treat urinary tract infection, Sexually Transmitted Infections and offer HIV prevention (including PrEP and nPEP). Patients can also start or maintain gender affirming hormone therapy so their transition is not put on hold.
We also offer counseling services with licensed clinical social workers. They offer therapy sessions to talk through personal issues, provide gender affirming hormone therapy counseling, or connect you with other needed resources.
We try to offer a wide variety of options for care in the hopes that we can meet your needs in the easiest way possible.
Can I renew or change my birth control using telehealth?
Our goal is to help people stay on their current medications without interruption, pandemic or not. So if you like your birth control, we can renew it via telehealth. If you want to start or change your birth control, we can talk about your options via telehealth. To prescribe something new, we will need a recent blood pressure reading, which you can get at either a pharmacy near you or by stopping into a PPIL health center.
What do I do if I’ve been exposed to an STI?
If you need STI testing, you have several options that can help you get the care you need, while limiting your time in public spaces:
PPIL may mail you an at-home testing kit. You’ll collect a sample in your own home and mail it back. This method takes about 3 weeks to get results.
You can come in just for STI testing following your telehealth visit. You’ll get results in about one week.
You can visit a LabCorp facility after your telehealth visit. If a LabCorp facility is closer than a PPIL health center, we can order your test there. When you get your test done, they’ll report the results to PPIL for follow-up. This method also takes about one week for results.
I think I may be pregnant -- can I use a telehealth appointment to confirm this?
If you think you may be pregnant, we recommend starting with an at-home pregnancy test, which are very sensitive. If the test is positive, we ask patients to come in to confirm the pregnancy and discuss all your options. If the pregnancy test is negative, we may recommend you repeat the test in 2 to 3 weeks, to see if the first test was taken too early.
While the COVID vaccine is a sign of hope, the ongoing pandemic has made life trickier for many folks. People have lost their jobs and, with it, their health insurance. Some now have children at home full time and no one to babysit when they need to run an errand or attend an appointment. Launching our telehealth services is just one way PPIL is trying to meet our patients where they are and help everyone get the care they need, when they need it.
To learn more about PPIL’s telehealth services or to make an appointment today, visit ppil.org.