What patients want from birth control materials

We were thrilled to hear the excitement for our Patient Education Materials when they launched for our trained health center partners in September. When we began researching and developing contraceptive education materials we knew that patient choice would be our North Star on everything from messaging to iconography. From our early days in Delaware to now, supporting health centers in adopting a patient-centered counseling model based on a patient’s goals and preferences has been our number one priority.

During our research, patients shared their needs, wants, and fears when it came to choosing a birth control method. We heard that effectiveness was important, but other considerations like potential benefits or side effects were also top of mind, for example:

  • Helping with periods
  • Avoiding headaches
  • Hormone level
  • Ease of use

Participants also shared that they wanted information that helped them navigate through the overwhelming sea of contraceptive information in an unbiased and nonjudgemental way.

Decision-Making Wheel

“I think it’s really important for people to know about all the potential side effects. This tells you everything…I like it when info is presented in a compact way… All in one—two sides, all right there, one bundle of info.”

— Patient

Based on the candid feedback gathered from research, it was clear that we should frame our materials not in efficacy, but in preferences. The Decision-Making Wheel is a clear articulation of this idea:

  • The Wheel is non-hierarchical—no method is designed to appear better or worse than another.
  • Spin the top layer of the wheel to reveal the potential benefits associated with each method.
  • Flip the wheel over to see the potential bleeding changes and potential side effects.
  • Use the color-coding to determine whether methods are hormonal or non-hormonal (a key distinction voiced by patients) and whether the method prevents STIs or is hidden.

Participants preferred the percentage of effectiveness over other options, so we included it for each method, as well as the range of effectiveness with typical use for multiple methods on the outer edge of the wheel.

Welcome Booklet

“This [booklet] could help you think of questions that you wouldn’t have known to ask. I will have a million questions and as soon as I get in the room I forget them all. Good to help arm you as you go into your appointment.”

— Patient

The Welcome Booklet and postcards also reinforce our preferences-oriented approach. The booklet begins with the question, “How do I choose the right birth control for me?” The subsequent pages offer questions and choices to consider when answering that very question. The postcards offer a quick snapshot of how the method works, whether it has hormones, and potential benefits and side effects.

What’s next

We are grateful for the partners and friends who have already been generous enough to give us suggestions. As these materials make their way into the field, we will gather more learnings so that we can continually refine our approach—emphasizing choice and options throughout. Stay tuned in the new year for updates to the printed materials, including new language translations, and updated features to our patient webpage. If you have tips, ideas, or feedback for us, drop us a line at resources@upstream.org.

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