8Questions: Dr. Sophia Yen of PandiaHealth.com, a new online birth control prescription service


I’ve blogged about my friend Dr. Sophia Yen in the past. She’s probably the most politically active person I know (and her brother served in Iraq and her mother Sandy Yen was in the Taiwan legislature.)

But by day, she’s not only a doctor but also recently launched her start-up, Pandia Health – “The easiest way to get birth control.” I caught up with her recently to learn more about her startup and her motivations.

John: Today we’re talking with Dr. Sophia Yen, a physician with a passion for making women’s lives better with improved access to birth control and prescription acne medications via her startup PandiaHealth.com

Dr. Yen: Thank you for having me on 8Asians.com! I love sharing my birth control knowledge with people to help prevent unplanned pregnancies.

As Asian Americans, I think many of us have gone under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” regimen about our birth control with our parents. I’m here and happy to answer anyone’s questions about birth control, sexually-transmitted infections, and acne. I hope our generation can be more open with our children.

Why did you start PandiaHealth.com?

One of the top 3 reasons that women don’t take their birth control is because they don’t have it on hand. My friend Perla Ni and I thought, “That is so easy to solve. We will just ship women birth control and keep shipping it until they tell us to stop. No one runs out of birth control on our watch.”

What makes your company different?

No other company in this space is founded and led by: Asian American women, Women of color, a currently-practicing reproductive health doctor, or a pharmacist. As women, we understand the pain of having to go to the pharmacy every month to get your birth control. We have personally felt “pill anxiety” – the fear of running out of your medications and the stress of having to get to the pharmacy during business hours to get your birth control.  

We are the one-stop shop for your birth control needs (and soon to be acne medication needs). If you have a prescription, then you sign up with PandiaHealth.com and we will start shipping you your birth control for free, 3 months supply at a time (insurance-willing) with automatic refills. If you need a doctor consult for a prescription (your prescription expired or your provider doesn’t have a visit available before your prescription runs out and won’t renew your prescription), you fill out a 10-15 minute questionnaire and if there are no medical contraindications, our partner doctors will write a prescription for $39 MD consultation fee. Then we can deliver you the medication.

Is birth control free?

Yup! Free in that there are no copays and no deductibles thanks to the Affordable Care Act (with a few exceptions for religious employers and few others). However, if you insist on a specific brand-name versus generic medication, you will have to pay the difference in cost for that brand name. And now with Pandia Health, you can get your medications delivered to your mailbox.

If you have any problems getting your birth control without a copay/deductible, you can contact http://coverher.org a project of the National Women’s Law Center and they will fight for you.

I heard that you don’t need a prescription for birth control anymore in CA/Oregon/Washington?

In CA/OR/WA, you can now get birth control directly from the pharmacist but this has to be done IN PERSON at the pharmacy and they are charging at least a $25 fee in Oregon and more in CA. Our service is from the comfort and privacy of your home (or wherever you happen to be with your phone/computer) and can be done at any hour rather than only when the pharmacy is open. In addition, you’ll be working with a physician who specializes in birth control.

What is your number 1 birth control tip?

Know about Emergency Contraception (EC). For any heterosexual male having sex or any female of reproductive age (regardless of her orientation), have some Emergency Contraception in case your condom pops or you are sexually assaulted. All forms of EC can be used up to 5 days after an incident. However, in general, the sooner you use them, the more likely they will prevent pregnancy. Think of them as a fire extinguisher – you should already have one at your home instead of buying one when a fire has already started.

The most effective form of EC is the copper IUD. The copper IUD can be inserted and left in the uterus to serve as long term birth control for up to 10 years.

The 2nd most effective EC is ulipristal acetate (aka Ella). It is only available by prescription but because it is by prescription – it should be available for “free” (no co-pay, no deductible) under the Affordable Care Act. Ask your doctor to prescribe you 30 mg of ulipristal acetate for you to take in case of emergencies.

The 3rd most effective EC is levonorgestrel 1.5 mg. Most people know this as “Plan B” or the “morning after pill.” You can buy this EC at your local pharmacy. I recommend asking for a GENERIC Plan B or generic emergency contraception because Plan B often costs $60+ because it is “name brand” and the generic can cost $20-$30 depending on what the pharmacy wants to charge.

Ulipristal acetate beats levonorgestrel in efficacy at every time point and especially on days 3-5 after an incident and in heavier women. In fact, if your body mass index (BMI) is more than 26, you should not use the levonorgestrel (over the counter) emergency contraception, because it will not work.

Any other reproductive health tips?

Periods are optional. The only reason we build the lining of the uterus is to prepare for an embryo. If you aren’t ready to have a baby, then why bother building that lining? Don’t waste the energy and blood every month building and shedding and increasing your risk of endometrial (uterine lining) cancer and ovarian cancer (from popping out eggs when you aren’t going to use them). A great reference article is John Rock’s Error by Malcolm Gladwell. Look for a future blogpost on the topic by me here.

Always use a condom – assume everyone has an STI (sexually transmitted infection). The #1 STI is HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) and there is no commercially available widely used test for it in men. There are 160 strains of HPV and the vaccine only covers 9 of them. However, definitely get the vaccine because it covers 90% of cervical cancer and 90% of warts and prevents some esophageal and oral cancers. If you want to hear me discuss HPV and the vaccine you can listen here: http://ww2.kqed.org/forum/2014/08/04/cdc-hpv-vaccine-rates-for-teens-unacceptably-low/

I’m happy to answer people’s questions about birth control and STIs and acne either on our Facebook page or on Quora.

Sophia Yen, MD MPH graduated MIT, UCSF Medical School, Children’s Hospital Oakland’s pediatric residency, UCSF Adolescent Medicine Fellowship, UC Berkeley with an MPH in Maternal and Child Health and is a clinical Associate Professor at Stanford School of Medicine. Her goal in life is prevent all unplanned pregnancies by providing access to birth control and comprehensive sexuality education and motivating young adolescent women to focus on their future rather than getting pregnant.


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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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