In rural areas such as Gambier, limited transportation and lack of proximity to medical providers can impede student access to reproductive healthcare. To combat these difficulties, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio (PPGOH) is now offering same-day telehealth services, and is looking to bring “pop-up” programming and similar initiatives to Kenyon’s campus in the near future.
PPGOH began offering telehealth services to patients during the pandemic. These short, virtual visits allowed patients to receive services that did not require a physical examination, including birth control, HIV services, emergency contraception, STI screening and gender-affirming care. While initially intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19, the program was especially well received by college students without local healthcare providers, resulting in the continuation of the program in order to serve populations with difficulties traveling to appointments.
Over the summer, the service gradually expanded from having one provider who worked every other day to having two or three daily telehealth providers. According to Dr. Adarsh Krishen, Chief Medical Officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, this will allow patients to book appointments sooner, often the same day that they schedule their visit. “Ideally, you’d get an appointment in the morning, but we’re trying to keep it so that at least by the afternoon of that same day, you can get that appointment, and keep as many options open for folks as possible,” he said in an interview with the Collegian.
While the telehealth provider conducts the call from an office, the patient can join from their dorm room, car or any convenient private area. The providers can then prescribe medications, schedule follow-up appointments and order lab work based upon the patient’s individual needs. According to Krishen, telehealth services allow students to receive care without major disruptions to their education or jobs, as it alleviates the need to skip classes or miss work to travel to a city for care. The only requirements for making an appointment are that the patient creates a MyChart account and has their insurance, payment, medication and pharmacy information accessible.
Telehealth is only one component in PPGOH’s plan to optimize service on rural campuses such as Kenyon. Beyond the recent increase in providers, Krishen also hopes to create “pop-up clinics,” which appear on campus for a day and serve students with healthcare events such as back-to-school reproductive healthcare programs. Krishen is also looking to extend the telehealth program’s current hours to serve patients with “any-time” care, which would be available as a resource as soon as someone is in need of healthcare. “If you have a need, you want it to be addressed immediately or as soon as possible,” he said. “And so our next step will be to consider, can we expand those hours so that it’s more convenient for patients as well?”
From the telehealth expansion to pop-up plans, Krishen stressed that the ultimate goal of PPGOH’s actions is to creatively address the unique challenges that college students and other patients in rural areas face. “Telehealth is just one more component of saying how we can meet patients where they are and the patient in a safe environment that allows them to get the care they need at the time that they need to,” he said.