Expert Interview: Dr. Tracey Wilkinson

With the recent changes to expand access to birth control for youth, pediatrician Dr. Tracey Wilkinson helps explain the importance of the progress so far and what still remains to be done.Dr. Tracey Wilkinson

What changes have you seen recently with birth control for youth?

In 2013, emergency contraception (EC), also known as the morning-after pill, was made an over-the-counter medication for everyone.  This means that anyone (girls or boys) can walk into a retail pharmacy or drugstore and purchase EC without having to show identification or find a pharmacy that is open.

How has over-the-counter EC impacted your patients?

Having EC over-the-counter helps ensure that everyone (regardless of age) can access this medication when they need it.  Remember, EC works better the sooner it is taken–so, it is important that when someone needs to get this medication to prevent pregnancy, there are no delays when they go to the pharmacy, doctor’s office, or clinic.

What challenges are your patients facing despite these changes?

There have been a lot of changes to the law regarding EC access over the last few years.  So, it is not surprising that there is a lot of confusion–amongst clinicians, pharmacy staff and even teenagers–as to who can get this medication and when it should be taken.

What needs to be done to address these challenges?

We are going to need to have a lot of education and outreach to both the public and the medical community about the recent changes around EC access.  It is important that youth know about this medication and when to take it, that doctors talk about it with their patients and that pharmacy staff know how to answer questions from consumers buying this medication.

What advice would give youth who would like to get birth control?

First, do some research before you go to the doctor on what types of birth control is out there and what may be a good fit for what you are looking for. Second, it is important that youth find a clinician who they feel comfortable talking to about options for birth control.  These conversations rely on trust and it is important that you find that relationship with a clinician.  Also, remember your rights when going to the doctor’s office, clinic, or pharmacy–you have a right to privacy and confidentiality no matter how old you are.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?  

One of my favorite things as a pediatrician is talking to adolescents as they transition to adults and start making decisions around sexual activity and how to be safe.  Remember, there are a lot of ways to do that and it is important to find a birth control method that works well for you and your partner so that you can stay healthy and also not get pregnant until you are ready.  The number of contraceptive methods continues to increase and so if you don’t like one method–there are a lot of other ones to try!

About the Expert: Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, MD, MPH is a board-certified pediatrician practicing at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  She is also an Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.  Dr. Wilkinson’s research interests are pregnancy prevention and access to contraception.  To make an appointment with Dr. Wilkinson, call (323)669-2113.

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