Online Fulfillment Is Obstacle for Morning-After PillMorning-after emergency birth control pills are available online, but order fulfillment problems are making it difficult for women to have prescriptions filled within the 72-hour period during which the pill is effective.
Prescriptions for Plan B, Ovral and Preven -- brand names for the morning-after pill -- are available online through the Chicago and Atlanta Planned Parenthood branches and through for-profit Web sites such as VirtualMedicalGroup.com and GetThePill.com.
But finding pharmacies to fill the prescriptions has been the greatest problem, said Tania Malik, CEO of VirtualMedicalGroup.
"Fulfillment is absolutely our biggest problem," Malik said. "A lot of pharmacies are not carrying it."
Sharon Camp, president and CEO of Women's Capital Corp., the developer of Plan B, estimates that the pill is available in just 20 percent of pharmacies nationwide.
"People [nonprofit organizations] in the field are telling us that no more than one in five pharmacies are carrying it," Camp said.
Pharmacies have seen few prescription requests, so they are not stocking it, she said.
"When people do want to write (prescriptions), they call around and find out no one is filling the prescriptions," Camp said.
In an effort to increase awareness about Plan B, Women's Capital Corp. sent direct mail to 75,000 retail pharmacies nationwide in November. The company tracked responses through its call center, "but we didn't notice anything significant from the mailing," she said.
The company also has done outbound telemarketing and sent its sales force to pharmacies in New York, Baltimore, Washington and parts of California, Oregon, Washington state and Alaska.
Camp said the Web can help women who can't get the morning-after pill locally.
"A woman who can't find it in a pharmacy can order it online once she gets a prescription," she said.
That's where GetThePill and VirtualMedicalGroup come in. These sites connect women with doctors who will write prescriptions.
Getting prescriptions online speeds the process and could make all the difference, especially over a long holiday weekend. Morning-after pills are ineffective if taken more than 72 hours after unprotected sex.
Applications are filled out online or printed out and faxed in. Physicians review the applications. If approved, a prescription is e-mailed to the person requesting the pill or to the pharmacy where the prescription is to be filled.
Women with prescriptions can order pills from WebRx.com, which gets Plan B directly from Women's Capital Corp. WebRx warns women that, "If you have just had unprotected sexual intercourse and are worried about pregnancy, WebRx requires that you upgrade shipping method to overnight upon completing your prescription order."
GetThePill charges $20 to review applications and write prescriptions. It is affiliated with CVS, Eckerd, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Phar-Mor, but patients can have prescriptions filled at the pharmacy of their choice if that pharmacy carries the pills.
Since first offering Plan B at the end of December, VirtualMedicalGroup is averaging about 12 orders per day. It charges $79. This includes application review, the cost of the pills and shipping.
Most leads are referred to VirtualMedicalGroup from www.not-2-late.com, a Princeton University informational Web site.
VirtualMedicalGroup has reviewed applications and sent prescription orders to pharmacies in as little as two hours. But Malik cautions against waiting until the last moment. The company has failed twice at getting prescriptions filled on time. She urges women to fill out applications online as soon as possible so the pills can be mailed to them. This bypasses many of the fulfillment problems caused by the lack of pharmacies that carry Plan B.