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Pharmacy-Prescribed Contraceptives in Utah

BYU students and professors studied the effects of a 2019 standing order that allows Utah pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives.

When Ashley Tanner first went into Dr. Brianna Magnusson’s office to talk about women’s health, Tanner didn’t expect that their conversation would lead to a research project on pharmacist-prescribed contraceptives. But as Tanner and Dr. Magnusson talked about women’s health and the 2019 standing order that allowed pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives, Tanner felt eager to begin researching the effects of the standing order. She said, “I’m passionate about women’s health and I thought that research would be a good way to get into that.”

Tanner worked with Dr. Magnusson, Dr. Chantel Sloan-Aagard, and students J.B. Eyring, Sarah Christensen, and Emily Pilling. To discover how many pharmacies in Utah had chosen to implement the standing order and to see which types of birth control those pharmacies offered, Tanner, with the help of Christensen and Pilling, made calls to 173 Utah pharmacies listed as enrolled in the program in Utah. Tanner, Christensen, and Pilling followed a script for the conversation and asked whether they could get contraception, what types of contraceptives were available, and what the required costs and screenings would be.

Through the phone calls, Tanner and the other researchers found that of the 163 pharmacies they were able to contact, 127 (28% of all pharmacies in Utah) told the callers that they offered prescribed contraceptives. Of the 127, 100% offered oral contraceptive pills, 14% offered vaginal rings, and 2% offered contraceptive patches. Tanner explained, “That’s a huge impact. That’s limiting something that should bring broader access.” Increased accessibility and consistency through pharmacies in Utah could give women more opportunities to make decisions about their health.

Using census records, the research team did a geospatial analysis of the participating pharmacies to determine the geographic accessibility of the pharmacies. They found that 40% of Utah’s census tracts (n=235) had a high proportion of marginalized residents (those below the poverty level or belonging to a racial or ethnic minority) and also had little to no access to pharmacy-prescribed contraception.

Tanner hopes that her research will bring more awareness to the option of pharmacy-prescribed birth control and help people feel more comfortable talking about women’s health. She said, “If we could be open about women’s health, it could make such a big difference in people’s lives—not just with getting the right information but also with not feeling alone and frustrated because nobody else understands.”

After completing the research, Tanner presented at the American Public Health Association in 2020 and graduated that year with a public health degree with an emphasis in epidemiology. Her peer-reviewed research was also published in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Tanner now works at a remote healthcare company.

She is grateful for how doing research at BYU prepared her for the work she is doing now and any work or schooling she may do in the future. She said, “I was super grateful that Dr. Magnusson was able to take that time out and help mentor me through the research. I learned so much about collaborating and about researching. I think it’ll be a huge step forward and a huge advantage in the future.”