Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

The end of “the pill”?

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Feb• 15•17

For years, sexually active women and men that have wanted to avoid pregnancy have used a variety of contraceptives.  From pills to condoms, there are a lot of options out there.  Now add one more to the list, and its not what you might think.

Natural Cycles is an app that helps people identify the time period in which they are likely to be fertile. More about the technology is here.

The mobile application requires the input of basal body temperature recordings and the date of menstruation. Luteinising hormone (LH) test results are optional entry points. The required basal thermometer and the optional LH tests are acquired separately from the application. The users enter their fertility-related data into a device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer. The underlying technology is a statistical algorithm that returns a red (unsafe) or a green (safe) day to the user depending on whether she is considered to be at risk of getting pregnant.

The question is, does it work?  It seems like the answer is yes.  Pharmafile reports:

Natural Cycles has been approved for use in the UK by Tüv Süd, a European regulatory body employed by the Department of Health and acting on behalf of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) following extensive clinical trial testing. Research gathered from the trials placed the app’s effectiveness at 99.5%; by contrast, the NHS places the effectiveness of the contraceptive pill at 99%.

I am, however, a bit skeptical of these results.  Although they appear impressive, one of the key studies is a non-randomized study.  Patients who are more motivated are more likely to sign up for Natural Cycles; but they are also the same people who would be more likely to regularly take their pill.  Also, discontinuation rates of health care apps are often high and this study was no exception; about one-third of individuals discontinued use of the app within 6 months.

While Natural Cycles may be a good fit for motivated individuals or those sensitive to contraception side effects, it is unlikely to be a cure-all.

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