What are your thoughts about birth control? The VA wants to know

Kaylah Jackson
December 07, 2018 - 2:29 pm

(U.S. Navy photo by Rebecca A. Perron/Released)

“What are your thoughts about birth control?”

For women veterans, if contraception is even part of the conversation between you and your VA doctor, you might hear this question. But in recent years, researchers and physicians are looking at better ways to have the conversation about pregnancy with their patients.

A recent Veterans Affairs study analyzed how women’s attitudes surrounding pregnancy, along with their intentions, could impact how and if they use contraception. With this information, the VA and the healthcare community as a whole can better understand how to serve women regarding their contraceptive care.

“In the healthcare field, we have been very much moving toward the patient-centered model,” said Dr. Sonya Borrero, staff physician in the VA Pittsburgh’s women’s health clinic and Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for Women’s Health Research and Innovation (CWHRI) at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Borrero, along with a team of researchers, explored a national sample of 858 women veterans who received their care from the VA. One of the main takeaways was acknowledging the complexities of women and pregnancy.

“Listening to women about how they think about pregnancy and the way that women think about pregnancy is not always the same way that researchers or providers think about pregnancy,” said Dr. Borrero. Unlike those in the healthcare field, she says women don’t always take a “planning approach.”

Through conducting a phone interview, women veterans answered questions on how they would feel if they did become pregnant, regardless of their plan. Using a seven-point scale, women’s attitudes varied from “it would be the worst thing that could happen to me,” to “it would be the best thing that could happen to me.”

According to the study findings, “women never intending to become pregnancy expressed more positive attitudes towards pregnancy than expected with only one-third reporting that pregnancy would be the worst thing.”

For VA physicians, these results could help shape how they interact with women veterans during visits.

“In my own counseling strategies, I don’t use the word ‘planning’ unless women indicate to me that that’s an orientation that is meaningful for them,” said Dr. Borrero.

Rather than a once over question, such as “what are your thoughts about birth control?” her style is more patient-centered.

“I ask my patients: ‘Do you think you’d like to have children someday, or more children someday?’ And if they say ‘yes,’ I say ‘have you thought about when you’d like that to happen?’ And ‘how important is it to you to avoid a pregnancy until then?’” said Dr. Borrero.

When taking these study results into account and integrating them into patient care, the VA can leave more room for women to talk about their feelings and thoughts, even if those are conflicting ideas.

This means women veterans can visit their doctor and talk about both preparing for the possibility of pregnancy while also learning about their birth control options.

“Being nimble can elevate the standard of how these conversations with women happen and VA very much is a leader in women’s healthcare,” said Dr. Borrero.

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