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Mobile app aids ‘truly informed’ contraception conversations between patients, providers

A new app provides information about contraception with the goal of helping patients make informed decisions with their providers. The app includes a module to address the unique needs of servicewomen around deployment. (Photo by Sgt. Barry St. Clair) A new app provides information about contraception with the goal of helping patients make informed decisions with their providers. The app includes a module to address the unique needs of servicewomen around deployment. (DoD photo)

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A new mobile application designed to help patients make informed decisions about their contraceptive options is now available. The Decide + Be Ready app provides information helpful for men and women, as well as civilian and servicewomen, and an Apple version of the app can now be downloaded free through the App Store, with an Android version available soon at Google Play.

“There are a lot of applications that help women record their cycles, when they’re fertile and not fertile, and this app is different,” said Air Force Col. Catherine Witkop, program director for general preventive medicine residency at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. “This app provides a lot of information about contraception and helps patients figure out which, if any, contraception they’re interested in using. They can bring that information to their providers to have a truly informed conversation.”

Witkop said the app, which is co-owned by the Department of Defense and the University of California at San Francisco, was developed for women, but also includes information for men, said Witkop. The idea of the app came to Witkop when she learned that a team at UCSF had developed a contraception decision aid and found it to be effective. With funding from USU’s Defense Health Horizons Program, Witkop was able to work with the team from the UCSF’s Person-Centered Reproductive Health Program to transform the aid into a mobile app with a module designed for women in uniform.

“It was important to have a module specifically for servicewomen that addresses their unique needs around deployment and duties they have to partake in,” said Witkop. “We also have information on an issue that a lot of military women are interested in, which is controlling their menstrual cycle when they’re deployed. You can use contraceptives to help eliminate periods, which can be helpful during deployments.”

When using the app, patients have the option to learn about the effectiveness of different contraceptive options, side effects, and how they’re used. The app provides information for women who want to know more about planning for pregnancy or considerations for birth control after having a baby, said Witkop. Patients answer a series of questions about their preferences for contraception options and they’re given a summary of the best options for their lifestyle based on the information they provided. Witkop said this information can then be used as a decision aid when talking with providers about contraception.

Navy Cmdr. Shannon Lamb, chief of the Office of Women’s Health for the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, said she found the app to be useful and user-friendly. The app’s format, ability to compare various options, and information provided specifically for active duty women are unique features, she added.

“As a women’s health provider, I think it is an outstanding tool that can enable shared decision making between the provider and patient,” said Lamb. The app is similar to a paper tool that the Navy’s women’s health clinical community had developed, but the electronic format has some added benefits, including its convenience, ability to rapidly update, and durability, she said. The Navy plans to promote the app in their walk-in contraception clinics as this will help facilitate conversations and streamline information in a busy clinical setting.

The app’s profile option for patients allows them to save their answers to the questions regarding preferences. It also provides ‘pop-up’ information on topics a user may not have considered, such as intrauterine devices and emergency contraception, an option to prevent pregnancy should their primary method of birth control fail, said Lamb.

“The ability to compare contraceptive methods ‘side by side’ is incredibly useful for patients in helping to determine which method may work best for them, and the visuals and graphics on ‘how to take’ the contraception provides an easy go-by for patients to understand,” she said.

Lamb said the app can be a valuable tool in raising awareness among patients about the effectiveness of contraception for other conditions, such as acne and menstrual suppression.

“This may prompt conversations with their health care providers that otherwise may not have occurred as patients may not have been aware of their additional benefits,” said Lamb. “It is invaluable for active duty women, particularly if they have a civilian provider, as it takes into consideration deployment environments that may be less amenable to certain forms of contraception, of which civilian providers may not be aware.”

Witkop said the app follows the same rigorous structure as other tools designed for medical decision making. She noted that the app is not connected to anyone’s medical record or personal identifying information, and it is not being used to collect data.

“The app stores information that you put into it, but it’s only stored there on the phone, so no one else is accessing that information,” she said “Your answers are only accessible to anyone you choose to share the app with.”

TRICARE covers contraception for all servicewomen and beneficiaries who receive care at a military treatment facility, but coverage can vary outside of MTFs, Witkop said.

“This is a tool that will give women access to detailed information about the contraception methods, as well an opportunity to answer questions for themselves about what’s important for their contraception so they can make informed choices,” said Witkop.

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