A dozen clinics across Nebraska have begun — or soon will start — offering virtual appointments for certain sexual and reproductive health care services through a $550,000 federal grant aimed at expanding capacity and access to such care in the state.
Through its In Control campaign, Nebraska Family Planning is working with six agencies that operate clinics from Chadron to Peru to expand the availability of affordable, accessible birth control, emergency contraception and pregnancy counseling.
“It’s really exciting that we get to support this statewide effort to improve access to sexual and reproductive health through virtual care,” said Mariel Harding, senior director of programs and initiatives with Nebraska Family Planning.
Harding noted that other clinics in the state have provided virtual health care for sexual and reproductive health. But the campaign marks the first time that the organization has engaged in a coordinated push to increase capacity and access through virtual care.
Nebraska Family Planning administers Nebraska’s Title X funding, the federal money that ensures residents have access to a broad ranges of sexual and reproductive health care for free or at low cost. Fees are determined on a sliding scale based on household income and the number of people in the household.
The new funds, Harding said, are part of a $16.3 million pool that federal officials have awarded nationally to expand telehealth for family planning services.
Many Nebraskans face challenges getting such care because of cost, distance from health care providers, lack of transportation or child care or difficulty making appointments around their work schedules, Harding said.
Some 90% of Nebraska’s counties face a shortage of obstetrician/gynecologists, according to a 2020 workforce report from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Virtual appointments are conducted by phone or video call. Translation services are available. To find a local clinic or sign up for an appointment, visit InControlNebraska.com. Campaign materials are available in English and Spanish.
Harding said the experience during a virtual appointment is very similar to what happens during an in-person visit. Providers conduct a full intake, including taking a medical history. Patients spend as much or more time with the provider as they would in person. Providers also can send prescriptions to a pharmacy, just as they would during an in-person session. Visits are confidential.
“This is just one more way to break down those barriers to make sure people can access care where they need it, when they need it,” Harding said.
Some sites also are starting to mail out at-home test kits for sexually transmitted infections. Patients can then collect samples and return the kits for testing.
“That’s not available everywhere, but that is also starting as part of this work,” she said.
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