Over the last five or so years, there has been no shortage of businesses that have been described as the “Uber of something" – the Uber of boats, the Uber of hats, the Uber of childcare, the Uber of jets, and so on. Sometimes those descriptions make sense and sometimes they are a bit of a stretch – but in some cases, the overuse of the descriptor has the slight disadvantage of making firms less memorable.
One sees the Uber of X description, and it is easy to tune out and think “oh look, something else on demand.”
But the team at Nurx (pronounced "New RX") manages to be eye-catching, despite being another “Uber of” service – quite possibly because the second part of the phrase is a bit unexpected. Nurx is often described as the Uber of birth control.
Founded by Hans Gangeskar and Dr. Edvard Engesaeth, Nurx aims to address the issue of so-called "contraceptive deserts" in the U.S. – counties where the number of public clinics is not enough to meet the needs of the population. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 19.7 million women between the ages of 13 and 44 lack access to public clinics that provide birth control, defined as at least one clinic or provider for every 1,000 women.
Nurx launched in 2015 to offer a telemedicine response to that problem, with a website that allows women to obtain a birth control prescription almost instantly and get a three-month supply of the pills delivered overnight.
What differentiates Nurx from the various other depots where consumers can acquire birth control, Gangeskar noted, is the amount of doctor interaction that is baked into the experience.
Patients simply fill out a series of yes-or-no and multiple-choice questions about things like blood pressure and allergies. A doctor reviews the responses and follows up if needed, or they can go directly to filling the prescription. If the patient has insurance, it's free (as mandated by the Affordable Care Act) and Nurx picks up the tab on shipping. Otherwise, a three-month supply starts at about $15.
"If a 13-year-old [signs up for birth control], the provider is going to get on the phone with her, make sure there is no abuse situation," he said. "When you get it on Amazon Prime, all you do is enter your credit card and it shows up in the mail."
The app also allows patients to follow up with doctors about the prescription at no additional cost.
Moreover, Gangeskar noted, the system for distributing birth control, as it works today, is simply unworkable for too many patients who are faced with the choice of traveling long distances for access to reproductive healthcare or simply not getting it at all.
"It's absolutely ridiculous the way the system works," Gangeskar noted in an interview. "We absolutely believe oral contraceptives should be available over the counter. This is one step of the way.”
As of the end of 2018, Nurx is available for use in 22 states, including the District of Columbia. Texas is their most active market.
And while the company is committed to expanding its services even more broadly, geographically speaking, its 2019 goals also include expanding its telemedicine services.
“Our mission here is to leverage telemedicine to change public healthcare,” Gangeskar told a news outlet. “We are building a full-stack, primary care telemedicine platform at an unparalleled cost.”
As part of that push toward fuller primary care, in addition to sending out birth control, the firm is now offering PrEP, a once-daily pill that reduces the risk of getting HIV. More recently, the telemedicine startup has released a direct-to-consumer Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing kit.
The kit comes free with insurance, aside from the $15 shipping and lab processing fee, and is $69 for those without insurance. The kits are currently available for all current Nurx customers and will be out fully for new customers in 2019.
In a world where customers can get almost anything on demand – shoes, clothes, candy, coffee or even a parrot if that is what one’s heart desires – birth control is not all that out-of-the-box of an option, given the number of consumers who use it in the U.S.
And while for some customers, a service like Nurx will be one of many additional conveniences of the digital age, for a large cohort, Nurx will be more just than a convenience. It will offer access to medical services that might not otherwise be available within their local area.