Birth control is essential healthcare, whether it’s used to prevent pregnancy, reduce menstrual migraines, or help control medical conditions like endometriosis. Yet many people who need it face stubborn barriers to access — and the COVID pandemic has strengthened those barriers while creating new ones. When shelter-in-place orders began in the spring, people in need of birth control turned to telehealth to access it in a safe and convenient way.

While the pandemic has emphasized how challenging it can be to access birth control, even before this year many people couldn’t access contraception conveniently and affordably, or (in some cases) not at all. More than 19 million women in the US are in need of publicly funded birth control and live in contraceptive deserts, an area where women in need lack access to a health center that offers the full range of contraceptive methods. Further, approximately 1.5 million women live in a county without a single health center offering the full range of methods.

Whether a woman is facing financial, geographic, or logistical barriers, or safety concerns related to COVID, telehealth can be a solution, and it doesn’t stop with birth control. Telehealth is especially helpful for accessing care that may have stigma associated with it. This year our company has witnessed over 120% increase in home STI testing services, a nearly 200% increase in herpes treatment requests, and a 300% increase in requests for emergency contraception.

To address COVID-related gaps in care for college-age people, a new College Health Hub was launched, providing students with information on sexuality and sexual health from medical experts and sex educators.

Beyond the ability to access medication and tests, telehealth services can also offer something that’s also crucial, especially this year: The ability for patients and medical providers to connect at their convenience, and on their terms.

Fundamentally, telehealth empowers patients, giving them access to birth control and other essential care without requiring them to jump through hoops to get the required services they need.

Varsha Rao is the CEO of Nurx, a digital health company providing convenient and affordable access for sensitive health needs. With over 300,000 patients across the country, Nurx is the leading online provider for birth control. Prior to Nurx, Rao served as COO of Clover Health and Head of Global Operations at Airbnb.