New research from Lloyds Online Doctor, a new online medical consultation and prescription service, shows one in five women have run the risk of an unwanted pregnancy because they haven't got their prescription for the pill filled in time and had sex without contraception.
Approximately 50-80% of women use the pill at some stage in their reproductive lives but a recent survey suggests one in every two women have unintentionally run out of their supply at some point. The most common reason cited for not getting the script filled in time was because women found it difficult to see a doctor, either due to inconvenience or lack of time.
The contraceptive pill is available only by prescription which many women still mistakenly believe requires fronting up to a doctor's surgery. There is now an online alternative. Lloyds Online Doctor provides Australians access to safe and convenient online prescription services.
For women who have previously been prescribed the pill, the Lloyds Online Doctor service means an end to trying to jam a doctor's visit into their lunch hour or busy weekend. Instead, women can complete a simple, online consultation which is checked by an Australian doctor. If deemed safe by the GP, women can then choose to have either the medication or a new prescription mailed to them.
This is likely to be welcome news for many Australian women.
Dr Olivia Chen, General Practitioner of Lloyds Online Doctor says, 'In the five decades since the contraceptive pill first became available, the mobile and digital revolutions have transformed the way women lead their lives.
'Banking, shopping, reading the news and catching up with friends; these are all things we can now do online. It's the convenience factor that has pushed the take up of these services and this same desire to save time is now beginning to be evident in new, safe and affordable access models in healthcare such as Lloyds Online Doctor.
'An online consultation gives us all the information we need to ascertain whether it is suitable to prescribe the pill for women who have previously had a prescription. In the UK and Ireland, Lloyds Online Doctor has been prescribing the pill online for 12 years. This is a proven model that both addresses the consumer's need for convenience while ensuring safe access to medicine," Dr Chen said.
The survey revealed that more than one in 10 women have gone on and off the pill regularly.
'The pill provides many benefits – from preventing pregnancy, regulating periods, alleviating heavy or painful periods, reducing PMS and in some cases helping skin problems, like acne. For women to experience these benefits however, it must be taken correctly – everyday, at about the same time of day," Dr Chen explains.
'When taking the pill as prescribed, it has been found to be 99.7% effective in preventing pregnancy. However with -typical' use, that is forgetting to take it on occasion or taking it inconsistently, this figure falls down to 91%.
'Inconsistent use also means that your body gets confused with the random hormonal intake, and troublesome symptoms such as spotting between periods can occur."
The survey also showed some women have gone to the trouble of going to a doctor's surgery to obtain a repeat prescription, only to discover they could not get the script filled as the pharmacy they went to was out of stock.
Lloyds Online Doctor stock is dispensed by Terry White Chemists, one of the best known chemist brands in Australia, and delivery is generally made within five working days.
'It's a model that suits modern Australian women with busy lives," Dr Chen said.
How does Lloyds Online Doctor work?
1. Patients select a treatment at www.lloydsonlinedoctor.com.au and complete a questionnaire
2. Australian doctors review the completed questionnaire answers and decide if the requested treatment is suitable.
3. If the doctor decides to write the prescription, patients can then choose to have it filled and dispensed by Terry White Chemists and delivered to their home, or request a paper prescription to be sent that can be filled at any chemist they choose.
Lloyds Online Doctor provides online consultations and treatments for a carefully selected set of medical conditions. Launched in 2002, Lloyds Online Doctor has over 12 years' experience in managing over 850,000 patients remotely in the UK and Ireland. A subsidiary of Celesio AG, in the UK Lloyds Online Doctor provides medical services to the UK's NHS, community pharmacies and in association with a number of charities. In 2013 the practice was recognised by the Independent Healthcare Awards, the British Medical Journal and the Patient Safety Awards.
For more information about Lloyds Online Doctor please visit www.lloydsonlinedoctor.com.au
Question: Can you talk about the risks both men and women run if they are not using prescription medicine correctly?
Dr Olivia Chen: All medicine, be it prescription or over the counter, needs to be taken as directed by your doctor in order to gain the therapeutic benefit and to minimise unwanted side effects. For instance, the mini-pill is a highly effective contraceptive but most types need to be taken during the same three hour slot every day, otherwise you significantly increase the risk of pregnancy.
There are exceptions to this, of course, but your doctor will take these into account when prescribing so don't assume one size fits all! Every patient is different, and how you take your medication is often as important as what you take. Taking the right dosage is crucial too. Some women think that if they miss a pill today then they simply have to take two pills tomorrow – this is not true and can increase the chance of side effects (and pregnancy).
Medicines can also interact with one another, sometimes in a harmful way. It's really important that you let the doctor know everything that you are currently taking, be it a prescription medication or complementary treatment. For instance, herbal medication such as St John's Wort can reduce the effect of hormonal contraceptive. So be honest with your doctor, they won't judge you and only have your best interests in mind.
Finally food and alcohol can both impact how medicine affects the body Doctors sometimes advise that medication be taken with food as it can help, for instance, to reduce indigestion or nausea. However, there are some medications that should be taken on an empty study as food can delay absorption. Once again, one size does not fit all. As for alcohol, moderate consumption usually won't cause problems for most common antibiotics but patients taking metronidazole or tinidazole should avoid it at all costs.
At Lloyds Online Doctor the patient has the opportunity to ask the doctor any medical question about their treatment at any stage and at no extra cost. This ensures that they get the most benefit from the medicine and minimises the chance of any side effects.
Question: Where are the reputable sources we should be getting our information and prescription?
Dr Olivia Chen: We recommend that patients consult with a doctor registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Their website enables patients to check the register in seconds. We urge patients to be cautious when using online services – make sure you get the name of the doctor who is treating you and if in doubt, don't take risks with your health.
All of our doctors are Australian registered and are practising GPs. We are committed to keeping up to date with latest medical research and evidence, to enable us to prescribe safely.
Question: What surprised you about the findings of this study?
Dr Olivia Chen: For me the most surprising result is that one in five women aged between 18-40 will take a chance and still have unprotected sex despite not being able to get their pill on time. I think this emphasises the point that a lot of women find it hard to get their prescription due to busy lifestyles. That is where the convenience and easy accessibility of Lloyds Online Doctor steps in – all you need is internet access and a smart phone, whether it be out in the sticks or in a metro area.
I find it quite concerning that 52% of men aged 18+ are not concerned about the cause of their erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction has many causes – psychological, medication, diabetes, nerve damage, hormonal, unhealthy lifestyle. One of the important causes to exclude is narrowing of the arteries caused by smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In fact erectile dysfunction may be one of the first warning sign of developing heart disease, so it is very important to see your own GP for simple tests to exclude it.
Question: What is the Lloyds Online Doctor?
Dr Olivia Chen: Lloyds Online Doctor provides online consultations and treatments for a carefully selected set of medical conditions. We are not a GP service – there are many conditions that cannot be managed online given current technological constraints. However, we have over 12 years experience in managing over 850,000 patients remotely and provide a responsible and regulated service.
Question: Why do you think this is a good alternative for women?
Dr Olivia Chen: If you are busy with work, kids, or simply don't want to wait in a doctors office for your pill prescription, Lloyds can provide you with a convenient, affordable alternative to getting your repeat prescription. We ask over 30 questions per consultation and make our decision based on individual patient responses.
Question: How is this going to prevent unwanted pregnancy?
Dr Olivia Chen: Women can now access their repeat prescription for the pill from anywhere in Australia, at any time they want. Women have such busy lives and they don't want to wait for their next GP appointment, take time away from work or figure out child care arrangements, just for their repeat prescription.
Lloyds Online Doctor reduces the chances of their pill running out, and hence reduces the risk of pregnancy. We also provide loads of information, stored on the patient's online record, and are happy to answer any questions.
Women can opt for a hand signed paper prescription for $10, and have their pill dispensed by any Australian chemist. Alternatively they may opt for the actual medication to be delivered to their door for convenience by our pharmacy partner.
Question: How dangerous is it for women to continually go on and off the pill?
Dr Olivia Chen: The pill is a great way to avoid pregnancy, regulate periods, alleviate heavy or painful periods, reduce PMS and in some cases avoid skin problems, like acne. However for this to happen it must be taken correctly, as directed by the doctor. With perfect use, the combined pill is 99.7% effective in preventing pregnancy. However with -typical' use (occasionally missing a pill, taking it at random times during the day) see this figure fall to only 91%. Inconsistent use also confuses your body, causing an increase in troublesome symptoms such as spotting between periods. Just like any other prescription medicine, the contraceptive pill needs to be taken correctly.
Interview by Brooke Hunter