Maryland is among a handful of states allowing women to bypass the doctor and get birth control directly from a pharmacist.
“If a patient comes to our pharmacy and requests a prescription for a hormonal contraceptive, our pharmacist can actually do a full consultation with them and the patient can leave us with their medication in hand,” said pharmacist Olamide Banjo, manager of patient care services for Safeway.
Safeway is one of the first major chains to offer the service, and pharmacists are reaching out directly to customers.
“Patients who, for whatever reason, are not able to afford a physician's copay or maybe even they don’t even have insurance,” Banjo said.
“We have seen patients who are new transplants to the area,” Banjo said. “Being in Washington, D.C., we see people who are in flux, they come in for work, patients who aren’t able to get into their physician’s office.”
No appointment is necessary. Patients simply fill out a form and have their blood pressure taken. A pharmacist then reviews the patient’s medical history and discusses birth control options. The patient leaves with the medication whether it’s the pill, the patch, the ring or the shot.
“From start to finish, it’s anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes,” Banjo said.
There's a $35 consultation fee, and insurance typically covers the cost of the medication.
“It’s really just about getting it to the patients who need it and making it more affordable and more accessible,” Banjo said.
Research by the Guttmacher Institute shows almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are not planned. In Maryland and Virginia, more than 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, and in D.C., 62% of all pregnancies are unintended.
“We are seeing a good number of patients, but we would love to see more,” Banjo said. “You know, just really making sure we are meeting the need wherever possible.”
Pharmacies are open late into the evening and on weekends when doctors’ offices are closed.
The service is not restricted to Maryland residents, and there are no age restrictions. It's up to the pharmacist to decide whether to prescribe birth control to a minor or refer them to a physician.
D.C. passed similar legislation last year, but it hasn't been implemented at pharmacies.
Almost 30 Safeway pharmacies in Maryland provide the service: