Planned Parenthood rolls out new virtual care tool in 27 states 

Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Planned Parenthood is diving deeper into virtual care with the launch of Planned Parenthood Direct in 27 states. The new platform will let users request birth control, get a prescription for urinary tract infection treatments and request an in-person appointment at a Planned Parenthood health center.

The new technology will be available in all 50 states by the end of 2020, according to officials.

“The Planned Parenthood Direct app is helping to minimize barriers such as time, transportation, office hours and availability,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said during a press event this afternoon. “At Planned Parenthood we are committed to breaking down barriers and reaching people wherever they are no matter what. By leveraging technology and combining it with the trusted expert care of our providers, we are determined to continue to fill the gap of healthcare access so more people can stay healthy and reach their life goals regardless of ZIP code or income.”

The new technology was born out of two pilot programs that were rolled out in 2014 and 2015 across six states.

“We took what we learned from these pilots to launch one telehealth app — Planned Parenthood Direct,” McGill Johnson said.

This announcement comes just weeks after the organization announced that it will be withdrawing from the Title X program, a federal family planning program for low-income patients, following the Trump administration’s recent ruling prohibiting these funds to be used for abortion counseling or referrals. McGill Johnson said that Planned Parenthood serves 40% of all Title X patients. Despite this, she reaffirmed during the event that the organization will continue to deliver healthcare.

“At Planned Parenthood we will not let this administration or anyone else deter us from our mission of delivering healthcare and information to as many as possible,” she said.

WHY IT MATTERS

The organization’s leaders are pitching the new rollout as a way to expand its services to more patients. In particular, the app caters to patients living in rural and remote communities, as well as patients who traditionally have been underserved, such as low-income and minority women.

“Many of our patients have to travel long distances to get care, have difficulty to get time off of work or find childcare, work multiple jobs or have trouble getting an appointment when they need one,” Kelly Gordon, advanced practice clinician from Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands, said during the press event. “This is especially true for people living in remote or rural communities and for people who have historically faced the greatest barrier to care, such as people of color and people with low income. But through telehealth we can literally meet people where they are to get them the care they need, when they need it: after work, on their lunch break and on their phone.”

THE LARGER TREND 

This is hardly the first time Planned Parenthood has dipped its toes into the digital waters. In January the organization rolled out a new chatbot, dubbed Roo, designed to help teenage girls get answers to questions about sexual health and puberty.

In 2016 it rolled out an app called Spot On that helps users track their period and manage their birth control.

Additionally, Planned Parenthood has been involved with telemedicine care. The organization conducted a study, recently published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, about using telemedicine for medication abortion, finding that it had comparable results to those accessing in-person care.

Ginger

Behavioral health startup Ginger (formerly Ginger.io) scored $35 million in Series C funding, bringing the San Francisco-based startup’s total funding to $63 million. The new infusion of cash was led by WP Global Partners with participation from City Light Capital, Nimble Ventures, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Khosla Ventures, Kaiser Permanente Ventures and Kapor Capital.

WHAT THEY DO 

Ginger focuses on providing digital mental health services including behavior health coaching, video therapy, tele-psychiatry visits and other self-guided content. It specifically targets those dealing with anxiety and depression. The platform offers human-to-human support as well as technology-enabled insights.

The company partners with employer organizations to provide the services to their employees.

Ginger got its start as a passive monitoring company that sold its artificial intelligence technology to hospitals, but it reinvented itself in 2017 as a healthcare provider in its own right, offering a full service online and app-based mental health services.

WHAT IT’S FOR

The startup said the new money will go toward growing its data sciences and clinical services. It is planning to expand globally within the next two years.

MARKET SNAPSHOT

Mental health apps are on the rise in digital health, as is funding news for these startups. For example: Talkspace landed $50 million in May; Finnish company Meru Health scored $4.2 million in seed funding in April; and Quartet Health, which focuses on behavioral health and primary care, raked in $60 million in June.

In a Nature Digital Medicine study, researchers found 1,435 mental health apps available in the app stores. Those apps vary from meditation and mindfulness platforms to telehealth platforms with a clinician on the other end. While mental health apps are on the rise, stakeholders have been quick to point out that many lack validation. That same study found that a majority of the apps studied do not provide evidence or peer-reviewed studies to back up their products.

Ginger has gone the case study route, publishing a number of these on their websites, as well as its consumer surveys.

ON THE RECORD 

“We have significant experience investing in healthcare and believe that technology is the key to solving the global mental health crisis,” Donald Phillips, chairman and CEO of WP Global Partners, said in a statement. “As we looked to expand our portfolio, it became clear to us that there is no other company in the world that provides emotional and mental health support as quickly and effectively as Ginger does.”

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