Science + Technology

Mobile app developed at UCLA helps women choose birth control method

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A new, free iPad application developed at UCLA helps women navigate through the sometimes confusing process of selecting a birth control method using medically accurate information. The easy-to-use app highlights the most effective types of birth control and reveals potential side effects and risks associated with each option.
 
The app, called Plan A Birth Control or Plan ABC, is designed to help a woman prepare for her visit with a contraception counselor or an OB-GYN. It was developed by Dr. Aparna Sridhar, a clinical fellow in family planning in the UCLA Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
 
"Women using the app will be better informed and already have a baseline knowledge about what they're looking for when they see their doctors," said Sridhar, who is completing her master's degree at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. "That way, doctors may need less time to explain the different birth control methods, and can spend more time focused on a more narrow discussion tailored to the individual patient and her particular needs."
 
Available in iTunes, the app lists the top 10 forms of reversible birth control from most to least effective, ranging from the IUD to hormonal treatments to the female condom. Sridhar drew the content for Plan ABC from respected family-planning websites and vetted it for accuracy. One of her goals in creating the app was to ensure that women could easily access the most current, medically correct information, because much of the information on the Internet is either unreliable or dated, she said.
 
Once a user selects a type of birth control from the app, questions appear that help the woman decide if that method is right for her. For example, smokers and women over 35 are advised to consider a type of contraception other than the birth control pill, because of the risk of complications.
 
"The app tells a woman everything she needs to know about the form of birth control she chooses — a photo, how it works, how to use it, how it's inserted, its efficacy and any side effects or warning signs that something may be wrong," Sridhar said.
 
Sridhar created the app in about three months as part of her fellowship research project. Development costs were funded in part by a grant from the Society of Family Planning. Now, Sridhar is conducting a study to measure how women's knowledge of birth control methods is related to the differences in their contraception choice.
 
"If the study finds that the app is as effective as seeing a birth control counselor or physician, then we can make it available in waiting rooms and save both time and money by using our human resources to handle issues that a piece of software can't," she said, adding that the app could eventually be accessible through kiosks in physician's waiting rooms.
 
Dr. Angela Chen, an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA and chief of family planning services, said the app helps women actively engage in their own health decisions.
 
"We anticipate that this will translate into better adherence to health commitments," Chen said. "Witnessing the app being used by our patients over the past several months, I already see the benefit in terms of time saved by the clinicians. It makes our job much easier, and patients seem to enjoy navigating the app and engaging in a multi-dimensional learning experience about birth control."
 
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