Contraception During COVID-19: Pharmacy Best Practices

Pharmacists should not allow postponed or cancelled appointments to keep patients from accessing birth control. It’s important that patients understand how their pharmacy can continue to meet their contraceptive needs during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Pharmacists should inform patients that even though clinics and providers’ offices might be closed, their pharmacy is still able to facilitate refills, provide emergency contraception, and, in some states, prescribe hormonal contraception.

The following tips can help ensure your pharmacy is meeting patients’ contraceptive needs during COVID-19, while keeping your patients and pharmacy staff safe.

1. Encourage Contactless Communications and Dispensing 

Prevent patients from missing doses or going without contraception by preemptively contacting them via texts, emails, and calls to assess their needs. Encourage patients to utilize contactless communication to get in touch with the pharmacy for prescriptions or other items they want to order.

Pharmacies can provide contactless contraceptive care during COVID-19 by encouraging patients to obtain birth control prescriptions and products via mail, drive-through, or curbside pick-up services.


2. Promote and Supply Over-the-Counter Products

Visits to the pharmacy may be very limited for patients because of stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and other COVID-19-related barriers. Preemptively supplying prescriptions for emergency contraception can avert out of pocket costs while mitigating stress for patients that experience method failure and are unable to access the pharmacy in a timely manner.2 Encourage patients to have a pregnancy test on hand, in addition to over-the-counter contraceptive options, to ensure that patients’ contraceptive needs are met when routine visits to the pharmacy are not feasible.


3. Optimize Prescriptions and Anticipate Patient Needs

To maintain social distancing and the health of patients and employees, encourage providers to transmit new prescriptions electronically or via telephone.

Prescriptions for birth control should include maximum quantities and refills for a full year’s supply.2 Some states require health plans to cover dispensing a 12-month supply of birth control.3 Dispense the maximum amount allowed by the patient’s insurance and share the cash price if a patient desires paying out-of-pocket to limit visits to the pharmacy or clinic.

Pharmacy staff can proactively review patients’ profiles to anticipate upcoming refills and ensure the pharmacy’s birth control inventory is adequate to fulfill patient needs.

Check with your state’s COVID-19 pharmacy executive orders to ensure permitted emergency refills are being authorized.


4. Adapt Pharmacist Prescribing

Utilize Telehealth for Birth Control Visits

Patients are turning to telehealth services to access contraception during COVID-19. Transitioning your contraception service to telehealth wherever possible will ensure continuity of care while protecting the health and safety of patients and employees. Pharmacists can utilize telehealth to initiate contraception, assess and switch current methods, and adjust therapy as needed.

Due to COVID-19, some telehealth HIPAA regulations have loosened and health insurance plans are beginning to cover telehealth services.

Offer Methods that Don’t Require Blood Pressure Screening

Encourage patients to consider a progestin-only contraceptive if they’re unable to visit the pharmacy for a blood pressure screening.

Progestin-only contraceptive methods do not require a blood pressure screening in order to be safely prescribed, making them a feasible option when prescribing birth control via telehealth. Progestin-only options that can be prescribed by pharmacists and dispensed at the pharmacy include progestin-only pills (containing norethindrone or drospirenone) and depot medroxyprogesterone acetate injections (subcutaneous or intramuscular formulations).

Blood pressure measurement is required prior to initiating combined hormonal contraceptives—containing both estrogen and progestin hormones—due to the increased risk of stroke and myocardial infarction in patients with hypertension or without blood pressure measurements.

This article was co-written by Whitney Russell, a student pharmacist at University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, and Kailey Hifumi, a student pharmacist at the Pacific University School of Pharmacy.

This article was originally published in Pharmacy Times.

Click image to view and download our COVID guide.

Find out more about providing contraceptive care during COVID-19 on our COVID resource page

References

  1. CDC. Guidance for pharmacies during COVID-19. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/pharmacies.html; Published April 14, 2020. Accessed May 15, 2020.
  2. Family Planning National Training Center. What family planning providers can do to meet client needs during COVID-19. https://www.fpntc.org/resources/what-family-planning-providers-can-do-meet-client-needs-during-covid-19. Accessed May 15, 2020.
  3. Kaiser Family Foundation. Oral contraceptive pills. Available at: https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/fact-sheet/oral-contraceptive-pills/. Published May 23, 2019. Accessed May 15, 2020.
  4. Beyond the Pill. Contraceptive care during COVID-19. https://beyondthepill.ucsf.edu/contraceptive-care-during-covid-19. Accessed May 15, 2020.

Clinical Considerations for Contraception During COVID: Extended Duration of IUDs and Implants

Contraceptive care should not be compromised during this global pandemic. As many providers transition to contactless care methods via telehealth, patients that utilize long-acting reversible contraception may be worried if their intrauterine device (IUD) or implant has reached its expiration and needs to be removed or replaced. Pharmacists play an important role in educating patients about birth control, including what options are available to them when in-person appointments are not available at their regular clinic or doctor’s office. 

Expiration Dating 

The expiration date listed on the IUD and implant packaging should not be confused with the duration of use. The date stated on the packaging refers to the date by which the implant and IUD should be inserted.  Therefore, as long as the contraceptive device is inserted before the expiration date listed on the package, the IUD or implant will be effective for the entire duration indicated for each method. If the expiration date listed on the package has passed, the device is considered expired so it should not be used for a patient and should be discarded.  

Duration

Studies have demonstrated that IUDs and implants are effective past the FDA-approved duration. This evidence can help minimize concerns about ineffective devices that cannot be replaced due to cancelled doctor’s appointments due to COVID-19 or patient inability to go in due to exposure concerns, insurance loss, or any challenges. See table below to view extended evidence-based durations. 

Table modified from Reproductive Health Access Project

If the IUD or implant usage extends beyond the evidence-based duration, the patient should utilize an alternative birth control method until she is able to resume in-person visits with their provider to remove the device and possibly replace it with a new one if the patient desires. Providers should inform patients that leaving an IUD or implant in place past the evidence-based duration will not cause harm. While there are no safety concerns, there is no benefit as the device is not expected to be effective.

Pharmacists Roles

Pharmacists cannot prescribe or insert IUDs or implants, however, pharmacists have the ability to prescribe self-administered hormonal contraceptives in some states and can always provide over-the-counter barrier and emergency methods. If patients want an implant or IUD, pharmacists are able to initiate an alternative method in the meantime until patients are able to visit their clinic or doctor’s office for IUD or implant insertion. See our COVID page for more on providing contraceptive care during COVID-19. 

For patients not satisfied with their current birth control regimen who are interested in switching to an IUD or implant, pharmacists can refer the patient to a provider and educate the patient on proper bridging methods to prevent pregnancy during the transition to an IUD or implant. 

It is important that pharmacists stay up to date on birth control recommendations and clinical updates in order to provide guidance for patients and providers during a public health emergency. Pharmacists play an integral role in providing patients with the resources and education needed to make informed decisions on their contraceptive options. See the ACCP Women’s Health PRN Opinion Paper on the pharmacist’s role in safe and effective use of long-acting reversible contraceptive methods. 

If a patient is having symptoms related to their IUD or implant, they should be seen for this at a local clinic or doctor’s office. To find a clinic that provides contraceptive devices, visit Bedsider’s clinic finder.

References


About the Author

Kailey Hifumi is a student pharmacist at the Pacific University School of Pharmacy.

Photograph of Kailey Hifumi

Contraception During COVID: California’s Medi-Cal and FamilyPACT Programs Cover Depo-SubQ Provera

We recently wrote about the importance of offering patients subcutaneous depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA-SQ) as a contactless form of contraception during the COVID-19 public health emergency. California pharmacists can prescribe DMPA-SQ under statewide protocol upon completing the required training program and obtain payment for the visit for Medi-Cal patients.

As of April 9, 2020, California’s Medi-Cal, FamilyPACT, and managed Medi-Cal health plans are covering DMPA-SQ under pharmacy benefits.

To facilitate compliance with state and federal guidelines for sheltering in place and physical distancing, DHCS will temporarily allow for pharmacy dispensing of DMPA-SQ directly to patients for self-administration at home. This is in addition to current Medi-Cal policy that allows administration by a health care professional. Self-administration of DMPA-SQ would be at the option of the Medi-Cal recipient after individualized discussions and decision-making between the prescriber and the recipient. The prescribing provider is responsible for ensuring proper training of the recipient in administering the drug, potential side effects, and proper disposal of the pre-filled syringe.

The FamilyPACT system updates to allow for claim reimbursement of DMPA-SQ will not be implemented until May 15, 2020 for pharmacy dispensing, with a retro-effective date on or after April 9, 2020.  Pharmacies may re-process their denied claims after the implementation date and it should process successfully at that time. FamilyPACT always recommend that pharmacies validate eligibility, process the claim, get the denial, dispense the medication, and reprocess the claim after May 15 for payment. The reprocessed claim will show payment for the actual date of service as long as it is not before April 9.

Additionally, a reminder that a Medi-Cal beneficiary should not be required to pay for a covered medication until all avenues of successful processing have been explored and the department denies the service (for example the provider tries obtaining a TAR) and only if the patient requests to purchase the medication out of pocket. 

The full policy document is published on the COVID-19 webpage at: Direct-to-Patient Dispensing of Subcutaneous Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate – COVID-19 Emergency. This temporary policy change is effective immediately and remains in effect until further notice.

Clinical Considerations for Contraception During COVID: Patient Self-Administration

During the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, patients may desire a contactless method of contraception. The subcutaneous (SQ) formulation of depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA), Depo-SubQ Provera, is an important option to offer patients. This may be of particular interest among patients who currently come in to the pharmacy or go to a clinic for their intramuscular (IM) injection.

Formulation Differences

While patients are able to self-administer both subcutaneous and intramuscular injections for a variety of purposes (e.g., insulin, fertility medications), patients may prefer the SQ formulation of DMPA since it is associated with less pain and higher continuation rates than the IM formulation.

Differences between the two formulations are summarized in the table below.

Intramuscular (IM)Subcutaneous (SQ)
Dose150 mg104 mg
Duration13 weeks
(up to 15 weeks)
12-14 weeks
Generic AvailabilityYesNo
Cost at Pharmacy$70-100>$200

Another important consideration is insurance coverage of these products. Some health plans cover the IM formulation as a medical benefit but have not yet included it as a pharmacy benefit. Some health plans are now covering the SQ formulation as a pharmacy benefit due to COVID-19, while others cover it as a pharmacy benefit but require a prior authorization.

How to Initiate or Switch

There is no physical assessment or blood pressure measurement required for eligibility of DMPA.

If your patient is not currently using a method of hormonal contraception, they can begin using either the IM or SQ at any time during the menstrual cycle if it is reasonably certain that patient is not pregnant. A backup method of contraception should be used for 7 days.

If your patient is currently using IM DMPA, the SQ DMPA can be administered when she is due for her next injection. No backup contraception is needed.

If your patient is currently using any other hormonal contraception (i.e., progestin only-pill, hormonal IUD, combination hormonal pill, patch or ring) or a copper IUD, the DMPA should be administered 7 days before stopping the other method. No backup contraception is needed.

References