About 30% of reproductive-age women in the United States—19.5 million—live in “contraceptive deserts.” These areas are without adequate access to health centers that provide a full range of birth control options. These are also areas in which birth control and sexually transmitted infection (STIs) are stigmatized.
The coronavirus pandemic is putting more women at financial risk. Women are more likely than men to have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly women of color. As a result, they may have lost their work-related health insurance. Social distancing is also creating physical and psychological barriers to getting contraception, and other sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services.
The Covid-19 crisis is changing women’s plans for when to have children or how many children to have, especially Black and Hispanic women, according to the 2020 Guttmacher Survey of Reproductive Health Experiences. Women were delaying childbearing or having fewer children. During the pandemic, women’s access to contraception and other SRH services—and their ability to pay for these services—has been constrained. Again, impacting Black and Hispanic women more than white women.
Telemedicine services, such as Nurx, are a way for women to get affordable birth control, and STI testing and treatments. You can go online or use your smartphone. “It provides telehealth services for sensitive health issues through an asynchronous model that combines online consultations and home delivery of medication, and testing kits so that patients can take care of their health needs without leaving their home,” stated Varsha Rao the company’s CEO. “We have 300,000 patients in 29 states, making us the largest telehealth provider of birth control.” Consultations are a flat $15—similar to an insurance copay. Birth control pills usually cost $15 a month, and if you have it, insurance can cover the fee.
Nurx has seen a surge in demand: 75% increase in new patient requests for birth control with 250,000 total new requests and a doubling of other sensitive health services. The pandemic has dramatically accelerated the acceptance telehealth. It is no longer a backup option. It’s a primary healthcare option. Nurex just closed a $22.5 million Series C extension round. The company will use the capital to support rapid patient growth and introduce new sensitive health services, including treatment for headaches and migraines this month.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that telecontraception may:
- reduce barriers to contraception because vendors are convenient and accessible
- increase adherence compared to clinics that require in-person visits
- improve screening for patient adherence to the regimen of ingesting a pill daily and rare contraindications to oral contraceptives
Rao was not the founder of Nurx, but an investor. However, her background made her the right person to join the company and scale it. She founded Eve.com, an e-commerce retailer for high-end beauty products, was COO at Clover Health, a Medicare Advantage company, and head of global operations at Airbnb. It was the company’s mission to improve healthcare access for everyone, which attracted her to invest and become CEO.
It is Nurx’s purpose that has been energizing the team during the COVID-19 crisis. It turns out that purpose-driven businesses are faring better during the coronavirus pandemic, writes Nell Derick Debevoise in Forbes. Her statement is based on research into the Great Recession on B Corps—businesses that are legally required to balance purpose and profit. These companies were 63% more likely to survive the financial crisis than other firms of a similar size. Derick Debevoise also interviewed several B Corps on how they are managing during the pandemic.
Helping women prevent unplanned pregnancies is inspiring. It has been a magnet in attracting healthcare providers. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in demand for STI testing but, particularly, birth control,” said Rao. To meet the demand, healthcare providers needed to be hired. They are often referred to the company by someone who is already on the team.
The company has a distributed team located in San Francisco, Miami, and upstate New York. Nurx had invested in a video system that the staff was using for a while. The team was used to video meetings. But still, going fully remote was stressful. “We have a strong team culture of being in it together,” said Rao. “This made the transition to work-from-home easier than for other companies.”
Listening to, and acting upon, the needs of employees quickly has been critical. The company provided a tech stipend for WiFi and other technologies essential to successfully working from home. Employees were given a mental health day to help manage stress levels. “We decided to be remote until the end of the year pretty early,” said Rao. It made it easier for employees to plan their lives.
Even with a sizable telecontraception company, there are plenty of women who still need the service. Accessibility means making women aware of Nurx but not just online. Women in rural areas may not have good internet access. They may be missing the search engine and social media marketing the company is doing. In the fourth quarter of 2019, Nurx started advertising on television. One silver lining is that advertising is cheaper than last year.
What aspects of your company culture are seeing you through the pandemic?
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