Choosing to build or grow a family can be a complex decision for many people, and this decision has only been further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many people are apprehensive to get pregnant at this time or delaying their childbearing for a combination of reasons,” says Katherine Pocius, MD, MPH, medical director of family planning in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital, “both related to potential medical risks for mom and/or baby, as well as economic and child care concerns.”
Likewise, decisions about unplanned pregnancies have become more complicated for similar reasons for many people. Mass General remains committed to providing comprehensive, full scope family planning care including contraception and abortion services.
“No matter what your needs, we are here to care for you,” says Dr. Pocius. “Throughout the pandemic, our offices in Boston, Waltham, Charleston, Chelsea and Revere continue to provide these essential services, though we have become more creative with modes of delivery.”
Though she understands that there may be some hesitancy to come into the health system, Dr. Pocius assures her patients that the team at Mass General has “restructured much about how we provide in-person care to make coming for care safe while COVID infections continue.”
Contraception in the Time of COVID-19 at Mass General
As in other areas of medicine, delivery of gynecological care has been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to safe and effective contraception is paramount especially during a pandemic, and the Department of OB/GYN is committed to caring for patients and improving access. As clinicians look toward the future, Dr. Pocius notes three ways that Mass General has changed its approach to contraception care:
- Virtual Visits: Instead of traditional in person office visits, patients now have the opportunity to have virtual contraception visits either over the phone or via video platforms like Zoom. In many situations, patients can now receive the same contraceptive care without physically coming in to the office. This saves both time, money and child care needs for many patient—and minimizes exposure risk. Counseling for all contraceptive methods and provision of prescriptions for contraceptive pills, patches, rings and diaphragm can be provided via virtual visits. Additionally, even patients who require in-person visits for procedures, such as IUD or contraceptive implant insertion, can receive pre-procedure counseling over the phone to minimize time in the office. Dr. Pocius says: “We're encouraging video visits when possible for our gynecology patients. It allows our patients to see us and for us to see them.” She notes that not all patients want to speak over video, and many do not have access, so in those cases phone calls also work
- Minimizing the Number of Visits: At Mass General, the team tries to cover as many needs as possible within one visit, for the sake of convenience and to minimize the total number of visits needed. “I’ve always felt passionately about offering one-stop shopping to our patients,” Dr. Pocius says. “I know it’s a burden to get here and take time off, and the pandemic has further emphasized that if you’re here, we want to do everything physically possible—whether that means counseling, procedures, pap smears, labs, etc.—to minimize the number of visits to the hospital.”
- Postpartum Contraception: In the spirit of minimizing number of visits and utilizing telemedicine, the team has transformed postpartum contraception care. Historically, prescription for postpartum contraception was often delayed until patients’ routine six-week in-person follow up visit with their provider. To minimize in-person visits, the Mass General OB/GYN team has switched many of these routine postpartum visits from in-person to virtual visits. As such, in order to ensure contraceptive access, all patients are now routinely offered contraction before discharge postpartum to minimize the need for an in-person postpartum follow-up visit. Specifically, Dr. Pocius says, providers are now encouraging patients interested in IUD or contraceptive implant to have them placed during their postpartum hospitalization
While, there is still not a clear when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, the Mass General team is ready to help. Individualized family planning care is important. If you have questions or concerns, it’s best to consult with your physician or midwife to discuss your individual risks and options.
“I encourage all our patients to reach out to us with questions or concerns. Though things here at Mass General have definitely changed, we remain committed to caring for all our patients and their pregnancy and contraception needs,” says Dr. Pocius.