FDA approved an app to prevent pregnancy. Can an app do that?
CONTRACEPTION? Yes, there’s an app for that. And an FDA-approved app at that. Natural Cycles has just become the first app approved by the government to prevent pregnancy. The Swedish-based company had been cleared in Europe in 2017 and is an emerging name within the “Femtech” industry - a catch-all for “female health technology” that has reaped an estimated $1 billion of investment worldwide in the past three years. This app is marketed as “a natural method of contraception that is powered by a smart algorithm.” It sells the idea of “empowering women.”
Not all are convinced that the app represents the future of contraception, or should even be used now. Women might be drawn to having a sense of control over their reproductive lives. And as with so much else in modern daily life, their data is at their fingertips. But gynaecologists and women who have used the app caution that it requires a level of diligence: The app is only as good as the information women enter. And they point to incidents of unexpected pregnancies by those who have relied on it.
Natural Cycles works by calculating which days of the month a woman is likely to be fertile based on information she enters about her menstrual cycle and basal body temperature. The method, often referred to as fertility awareness-based method, identifies the days per menstrual cycle in which a woman is fertile.
Women using the app must take their temperatures immediately after waking up each morning using a basal body thermometer. Basal body thermometers are more sensitive than others. The thermometer comes with the app, which costs $79.99 (RM327) annually.
Clinical studies to screen Natural Cycles’ effectiveness for use as a contraception included more than 15,500 women who used the app for an average of eight months. Of those who used the app perfectly as directed, 1.8 per cent became pregnant (what is known as the “failure rate”), according to the FDA. The app had a “typical use” failure rate of 6.5 per cent, and accounted for women who sometimes didn’t use the app as directed and had unprotected sex on fertile days.
Juan Acuna, an OB-GYN specialist at Florida International University and an adviser to Natural Cycles, said there has been a long-standing view that natural contraception - like the rhythm method, for example - was not fail safe to prevent pregnancy in women who are fertile and having sex without other forms of contraception. Natural contraception requires women be educated about their cycles and willing to map out when they are fertile.
A software like Natural Cycles runs those calculations, he said. Still like most other forms of birth control, Acuna said women shouldn’t solely rely on the app during their first few cycles of using it. “It helps fill a vacuum in the world of natural contraception,” Acuna said. Laura MacIsaac, associate professor of obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said Natural Cycles was “a little more exciting” in that it tracks both menstrual calendars and basal body temperature.
But she cautioned against forms of contraception that require such intense maintenance and attention, especially for women seeking long-term pregnancy protection. “High-maintenance methods are the ones that have the highest failure rates, not because they don’t work biologically but because they don’t work in normal peoples’ lives,” MacIsaac said. That can include women who travel or have otherwise unpredictable schedules, or women who cannot ritualistically take their temperatures before doing anything else in the morning. – Washington Post.