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Specialized Family Planning Clinics in the United States: Why Women Choose Them and Their Role in Meeting Women's Health Care Needs

      Abstract

      Background

      Publicly funded family planning clinics provide contraceptive care to millions of poor and low-income women every year. To inform the design of services that will best meet the contraceptive and reproductive health needs of women, we conducted a targeted survey of family planning clinic clients, asking women about services received in the past year and about their reasons for visiting a specialized family planning clinic.

      Methods

      We surveyed 2,094 women receiving services from 22 family planning clinics in 13 states; all sites included in the survey were clinics that specialize in contraceptive and reproductive health services and were located in communities with comprehensive primary care providers.

      Results

      Six in 10 (59%) respondents had made a health care visit to another provider in the past year, but chose the family planning clinic for contraceptive care. Four in 10 (41%) respondents relied on the family planning clinic as their only recent source for health care. The four most common reasons for choosing a specialized family planning clinic, reported by at least 80% of respondents, were respectful staff, confidential care, free or low-cost services, and staff who are knowledgeable about women's health.

      Conclusions

      Specialized family planning clinics play an important role as part of the health care safety net in the United States. Collaborations between such clinics and comprehensive primary care providers, such as federally qualified health centers, may be one model for ensuring women on-going access to the full range of care they need.

      Background

      Each year, the network of publicly funded family planning clinics provides contraceptive services to more than 7 million U.S. women (
      • Frost J.J.
      • Henshaw S.K.
      • Sonfield A.
      Contraceptive needs and services: National and state data, 2008 update.
      ), representing one quarter of all U.S. women who receive such care (
      • Frost J.J.
      Trends in US women’s use of sexual and reproductive health care services, 1995-2002.
      ). For many women, publicly funded family planning clinics serve as their regular source for medical care (
      • Gold R.B.
      • Sonfield A.
      • Richards C.L.
      • Frost J.J.
      Next steps for America’s family planning program: Leveraging the potential of Medicaid and Title X in an evolving health care system.
      ). In addition to contraceptive services, which include counseling, birth control methods, and periodic gynecological checkups, publicly funded family planning clinics provide a range of other services, such as cancer screening, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and treatment, pregnancy-related services, and general health screening and referrals for other conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes (
      • Frost J.J.
      • Gold R.B.
      • Frohwirth L.
      • Blades N.
      Variation in service delivery practices among clinics providing publicly funded family planning services in 2010.
      ).
      Clinics that provide publicly funded contraceptive care can be divided into those that specialize in the provision of contraceptive and reproductive health services and those that provide contraceptive services in a broader primary care context. Among specialized family planning clinics, about half are health departments and the other half includes Planned Parenthood clinics, hospital clinics, and other community women's health clinics. Among primary care–focused family planning clinics, more than half are federally qualified health centers (FQHCs); this group also includes some hospital and health department clinics that provide family planning care along with a range of different public health services.
      Some of the service delivery features that distinguish specialized family planning clinics from those with a primary care focus are the number and range of contraceptive methods offered on-site; for example, 67% of all specialized family planning clinics offer at least 10 different contraceptive methods on-site compared with 41% of primary care–focused clinics that do so. Similarly, specialized family planning clinics are more likely than primary care–focused clinics to offer clients long-acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs and implants (75% vs. 57%). Nearly 9 in 10 specialized family planning clinics provide referrals to other primary care clinics located in their communities, with three in four providing referrals to community health centers (
      • Frost J.J.
      • Gold R.B.
      • Frohwirth L.
      • Blades N.
      Variation in service delivery practices among clinics providing publicly funded family planning services in 2010.
      ).
      On the other hand, clinics with a primary care focus are more likely than specialized clinics to offer a wider range of nonreproductive health services, such as weight management or smoking cessation programs, diabetes screening, and mental health screening, as well as comprehensive primary care. They are also more likely to have clinicians that speak three or more languages and to have clinical staff that provides translation services for patients. Compared with specialized family planning clinics, sites with a primary care focus serve a higher proportion of Medicaid clients and are more likely to have contracts with health plans serving Medicaid enrollees (
      • Frost J.J.
      • Gold R.B.
      • Frohwirth L.
      • Blades N.
      Variation in service delivery practices among clinics providing publicly funded family planning services in 2010.
      ).
      Although reproductive health–focused clinics comprise about half of the publicly funded clinic network, they serve the majority of the contraceptive clients who visit this network, primarily because clinics specializing in reproductive health care serve a greater number of contraceptive clients each year. A recent survey of publicly funded family planning clinics found that 22% of specialized clinics reported serving more than 100 contraceptive clients per week compared with only 5% of primary care–focused clinics that reported serving this number of contraceptive clients. The majority of primary care–focused clinics (51%) reported serving fewer than 20 contraceptive clients per week compared with only 19% of specialized clinics that reported serving fewer than 20 clients per week (
      • Frost J.J.
      • Gold R.B.
      • Frohwirth L.
      • Blades N.
      Variation in service delivery practices among clinics providing publicly funded family planning services in 2010.
      ). Based on these survey data, we estimate that specialized clinics currently serve about 70% of all contraceptive clients who receive care from the publicly funded clinic network (
      • Frost J.J.
      • Henshaw S.K.
      • Sonfield A.
      Contraceptive needs and services: National and state data, 2008 update.
      . Survey of clinics providing contraceptive services. Unpublished raw data).
      Despite extensive literature documenting the importance of publicly funded family planning clinics and describing the range of different services provided by this network (
      • Frost J.J.
      Trends in US women’s use of sexual and reproductive health care services, 1995-2002.
      ;
      • Frost J.J.
      • Gold R.B.
      • Frohwirth L.
      • Blades N.
      Variation in service delivery practices among clinics providing publicly funded family planning services in 2010.
      ;
      • Gold R.B.
      • Sonfield A.
      • Richards C.L.
      • Frost J.J.
      Next steps for America’s family planning program: Leveraging the potential of Medicaid and Title X in an evolving health care system.
      ), little is known about the reasons that are important to women when choosing one family planning clinic over another. Particularly in communities where women are able to choose from among several different publicly funded providers, we sought to examine why some women choose to visit a family planning clinic specializing in reproductive health when they have access to primary care–focused clinics where they would be able to receive a variety of health care services. We choose to focus on the women seeking care from specialized family planning clinics because these are the clinics that serve the majority of clients. In addition, we were interested in obtaining new data on women's perspectives that will be relevant to the ongoing policy and programmatic discussions about how to tailor women's health care services in a changing health care landscape. Understanding the perspectives of women obtaining care from specialized clinics will contribute to the evidence base needed to inform the design of services that will best meet the contraceptive and reproductive health needs of women. It will also help to inform the need for potential partnerships between specialized family planning clinics and other community-based providers, such as FQHCs.
      To address these issues, we conducted a targeted study that surveyed women who were obtaining care from specialized clinics located in communities with available primary care centers, and asked them what their reasons were for choosing to seek care from the specialized clinic. Our goals in this analysis were to 1) determine for whom the specialized family planning clinic serves as their main source of medical care; 2) assess why women choose to visit a specialized family planning clinic, even when they have other choices and may have visited other providers for other types of care; and 3) compare receipt of services and reasons for clinic choice among different subgroups of women.

      Methodology

      Sample and Fieldwork Protocols

      We surveyed 2,094 women receiving services from 22 family planning clinics in 13 states between October 2011 and January 2012. The sampled clinics were purposively selected from among the respondents to a previous nationally representative survey of family planning clinics in the United States, as well as by contacting state or regional Title X program administrators to request their advice and help in identifying sites that met our specific two-factor criteria: 1) Being a reproductive health–focused family planning clinic and 2) being located in a community with available comprehensive primary care providers. Potentially eligible clinics were identified from the prior survey based on their response to two questions. The first asked administrators to identify the clinic's ‘primary service focus,’ with the following response codes: Reproductive health, primary health care, or other. The second question asked administrators whether there were primary care clinics available in their community. During sample selection, we identified several sites in a state based on their responses to these questions and then contacted a Title X administrator in each state to help us to choose the sites that best met our criteria, or to identify alternative sites. Two thirds of the final sample of clinics had been part of the prior survey sample and one third of the sample was identified from administrator recommendations. The participating facilities represent a range of provider types (e.g., Planned Parenthood clinics, health department clinics, hospital clinics, and independent family planning centers) and geographic regions, and were located in Alaska, California, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.
      During fieldwork, we contacted the clinic or agency administrator at each sampled site to request their participation in the study. In some cases, several layers of review were required before participation was granted. Survey materials and instructions were provided to clinic managers at each participating site, and clinic staff were instructed to distribute the questionnaire to every eligible patient during the fielding period. All female clients, except those coming in for pregnancy-related services, were eligible to participate. Women completed the questionnaire on-site and returned it to clinic staff in a sealed envelope to ensure anonymity and confidentiality. The fielding period lasted 1 to 4 weeks at each clinic depending on patient volume (clinics with low patient volume were in the field for longer periods). Regular follow-up was conducted with clinic managers to answer questions and guide them through the fieldwork period; a $100 gift card was offered to each clinic as an incentive. One respondent at each site was also selected to win a $100 gift card incentive. Clinic staff distributed raffle entry forms to each respondent and one winner was randomly selected from each clinic at the end of the fielding period. At the end of fieldwork, each clinic reported the total number of eligible clients seen during the fielding period. Clinics that failed to achieve a minimum 50% response rate were excluded from analysis (only one clinic fell into this category).The four-page survey instrument consisted of mostly closed-ended questions and was available in both English and Spanish. Surveys were pretested with English-and Spanish-speaking family planning clinic patients, and changes were made after pretesting to enhance comprehensibility and respond to patient concerns. The questionnaire asked women about the reason for their visit, the desired features that led them to visit that specific facility, what medical services they had received in the prior year, and where they received those services. Demographic characteristics and information about health insurance coverage were also collected. The survey instrument and protocols were approved by our organization's institutional review board.

      Response

      Of the 27 clinics identified for this study, three refused to participate, one was found to be ineligible, and one failed to reach a 50% response rate among clients. The remaining 22 clinics reported a total of 3,105 eligible female clients seen during the survey period and usable data were collected from 2,094 of these clients, for a response rate of 67%.

      Analysis

      Analyses were performed using SPSS Statistics version 18 (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL), using the complex samples procedures. Results are based on unweighted data, and the clustered nature of the sample has been accounted for in analysis and significance testing. Comparisons among subgroups of women have been tested for significance using independent group t-tests, and significance is reported for comparisons at p < .05.

      Results

      Client Characteristics

      A majority of female respondents seeking services at specialized family planning clinics were under age 25–22% were teenagers and 34% were aged 20 to 24 (Table 1). Most clients had no children (58%) and most were neither married nor living with a partner (63%). Sixty-one percent of client respondents had an income below 100% of the federal poverty level, and an additional one quarter of clients had incomes between 100% and 200% of poverty. One in three respondents were on Medicaid or had some other form of public health insurance; 22% had private health insurance and 42% were uninsured. Half of respondents were non-Hispanic white (51%) and about one fifth were either non-Hispanic Black (21%) or Hispanic (23%). About 1 in 10 respondents spoke Spanish at home and a similar percentage was foreign born. Only one in five respondents indicated that this was their first visit to this clinic.
      Table 1Percentage Distribution of Female Client Respondents, According to Background Characteristics, 2011 Survey of Clinic Clients and Comparison With Family Planning Program Users From the Title X Family Planning Annual Report (FPAR), 2010
      CharacteristicsSurvey Respondents % (n = 2094)FPAR 2010
      FPAR data (Fowler, et al., 2011) include all female family planning users for age and race/ethnicity distributions; the income distribution includes both male and female family planning users. For income, an additional 3% of users had missing data and for race/ethnicity an additional 4% of users had missing data.
      (%)
      Age (yrs)
       <18810
       18–191412
       20–243431
       25–292121
       ≥302426
      Parity
       0 Children58NA
       ≥1 children42NA
      Relationship status
       Married14NA
       Living with a partner24NA
       Not married or living with a partner63NA
      Poverty status
       <100% FPL6169
       100–200% FPL2522
       ≥200% FPL157
      Health insurance
       Medicaid or state insurance35NA
       Private insurance22NA
       None42NA
      Race/ethnicity
       Non-Hispanic White5144
       Non-Hispanic Black2119
       Hispanic2328
       Asian/other65
      Language spoken at home
       English88NA
       Spanish7NA
       Both English and Spanish4NA
       Other1NA
      Nativity
       US born90NA
       Foreign born10NA
      First visit to clinic
       Yes21NA
       No79NA
      Abbreviation: FPL, Federal poverty level; NA, not available.
      FPAR data (
      • Fowler C.I.
      • Lloyd S.W.
      • Gable J.
      • Wang J.
      • Krieger K.
      Family planning annual report: 2010 national summary.
      ) include all female family planning users for age and race/ethnicity distributions; the income distribution includes both male and female family planning users. For income, an additional 3% of users had missing data and for race/ethnicity an additional 4% of users had missing data.
      We compared the distribution of our respondents to the distribution of clients receiving care from Title X–funded clinics by key characteristics, such as age and race/ethnicity, and found them to be very similar, especially by age (Table 1). Some small variations between our sample and all Title X users can be seen in the poverty status and race/ethnicity distributions; however, the questions used to collect these data also vary between the two efforts and some variation may reflect different data collection methodologies.

      Services Received

      Half of respondents (48%) said that their primary reason for visiting the clinic at the time of the survey was for contraception—either to receive a new method, to continue using a method or to talk about an issue they were having with their method (Table 2). One in four respondents (27%) was at the clinic for an annual gynecological examination (which may have included receipt of a contraceptive method). Ten percent of respondents were primarily at the clinic for a pregnancy test, 8% for STI services, and 7% for some other type of service. Teens were more likely than older women to visit the clinic for contraception and less likely to be there for an annual gynecological examination.
      Table 2Percentage Distribution of Clients According to Primary Purpose of Current Visit and Types and Sources of Medical Care Received During the Prior Year, by Age, Parity, Poverty Status, and Insurance Status, 2011 Survey of Clinic Clients
      Total (%)Age, yrs (%)Parity (%)Poverty Status (% FPL)Insurance Status (%)
      <20 (ref)20–2930+0 Children (ref)>1 children<100 (ref)≥100None (ref)Medicaid
      Medicaid includes other public or state-sponsored insurance plans.
      Private
      n2094444108847110687591046680863718451
      Primary purpose of today's visit
       Contraception486245
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      41
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      50454847474749
       Annual gynecologic examination271428
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      35
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      26282630282430
       Pregnancy test only107121110111011111011
       STI service only8108478966115
       Other service only77786886876
      Care received in prior year
       Annual gynecologic examination644270
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      69
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      5873
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      6268616766
       General health examination59665760586261575066
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      66
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
       STI test or treatment47505234
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      484752414059
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      43
       Sick visit425038
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      45453940463544
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      53
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      Source of prior year's care
       No prior care in past year121610111212131116107
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
       All prior care from this clinic291732
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      30
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      27313026332820
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
       Some or all prior care from another provider5966575961575763506172
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      Total100100100100100100100100100100100
      Abbreviations: FPL, Federal poverty level; ref, reference group; STI, sexually transmitted infection.
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      Medicaid includes other public or state-sponsored insurance plans.
      In the prior year, nearly two thirds (64%) of respondents had received an annual gynecological examination (either at the same clinic or at some other provider), 59% had received a general health examination, 47% had made a visit for an STI test or treatment, and 42% made a visit to a medical provider because they were sick. Teens and women without children were less likely to have made a visit for an annual gynecological examination compared with older women or women with children. Uninsured women were less likely to have received either a general health examination or a sick visit compared with women with public or private insurance.
      We combined the results from these four questions about care received in the prior year, including information about where that care was obtained, to determine the percentage of respondents who had received no medical care prior to the current visit and the percentage whose only medical care had been obtained from the specialized family planning clinic they were visiting at the time of the survey.
      Overall, in the past year, one in eight (12%) respondents made no prior visit for medical care, and 29% had only received care at the specialized family planning clinic. For these 41% of respondents, the specialized family planning clinic was their only source for medical care during the year. The majority of respondents (59%) had made at least one other visit for medical care in the prior year to a different provider, but when it came to making a visit for contraceptive or reproductive health care, they chose to visit a specialized family planning provider. Teens were less likely than older women to have only received prior care from the specialized family planning clinic. Uninsured women were more likely than privately insured women to have received no prior medical care or to have received all their care at the clinic—resulting in half of all uninsured women relying on the specialized family planning clinic as their only source of medical care. In contrast, only one in four (27%) women with private health insurance was relying solely on the specialized clinic for medical care.

      Insurance Status and Use

      Overall, 4 in 10 (42%) respondents had neither public nor private health insurance, 35% reported having Medicaid or some other form of public insurance, and 22% had private insurance (Table 3). African-American women were more likely than non-Hispanic White women to have public insurance; women with children, women under 100% of poverty, African-American women, and Hispanic women were less likely to have private insurance, compared with comparison groups. Among women with either public or private health insurance, about two thirds (68%) planned to use their insurance to pay for the visit they were making at the time of the survey, whereas one third (32%) did not.
      Table 3Percentage of Clients by Insurance Status and Among Those With Public or Private Insurance, Plans to Use Insurance for Visit Payment and Reasons Why Not, by Age, Parity, Poverty Status, and Race/Ethnicity, 2011 Survey of Clinic Clients
      Insurance Status and Reasons for Not Using InsuranceTotal (%)Age, yrs (%)Parity (%)Poverty Status (% FPL)Race/ethnicity (%)
      <20 (ref)20–29≥300 Children (ref)≥1 children<100 (ref)≥100White (ref)BlackHispanicAsian/Other
      Insurance status (n = 2,064)
       No insurance423243524145444246235051
       Medicaid or state insurance35433531284541242168
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      4024
       Private insurance222523173010
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      1434
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      339
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      10
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      25
      Among those with public or private insurance, plans to use insurance to pay for visit (n = 1,169)
       Yes686369746278736263797055
       No323731263822273837213045
      Among those with insurance, but not using it, reasons why not (n = 359)
       Service not covered2930263531212534398
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      2317
       Someone might find out1831154
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      242
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      17192251438
       Can't use insurance here13101771313111413101417
       Other reason668476958534
       Not specified342334512458
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      38281973
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      4525
      Total100100100100100100100100100100100100
      Abbreviations: FPL, Federal poverty level; ref, reference group.
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      We asked applicable women why they were not planning to use their insurance to pay for their current visit. Some (29%) did not think their insurance covered the service they were receiving, 18% were worried that someone might find out about the visit, 13% did not think their insurance could be used at the clinic, and 6% reported some other reason for not using insurance, including that services or methods were more expensive using their insurance, that their deductible was too high, or that they had forgotten to bring their insurance card. Teenagers were significantly more likely than women in their 30s to avoid using their insurance because of confidentiality concerns (31% vs. 4%).

      Reasons for Choosing the Clinic

      Respondents were asked to indicate how important
      Response categories were ‘Very important,’ ‘Somewhat important,’ ‘Not so important,’ and ‘Not applicable or available here.’
      each of 18 different possible reasons was to their decision to visit the specialized family planning clinic, instead of going somewhere else for their care. Table 4 presents the percentages of respondents reporting that each reason was “very important” to their clinic choice and also creates seven summary groups of reasons that were substantively related, presenting percentages of respondents who reported that any of the two or three reasons in that group was very important to their choice.
      Table 4Percentage of Clients Reporting That Each Reason or Any of the Reasons Within a Summary Group Was Very Important to Their Choice to Visit the Clinic Instead of Going Somewhere Else, by Age, Parity, Poverty Status, and Insurance Status, 2011 Survey of Clinic Clients
      Reasons for Deciding to Visit the Clinic Instead of Going Somewhere ElseTotalAge, yrs (%)Parity (%)Poverty Status (% FPL)Insurance Status (%)
      %n (Unweighted)<20 (ref)20–29≥300 Children (ref)≥1 children<100 (ref)≥100None (ref)Medicaid
      Medicaid includes other public or state-sponsored insurance plans.
      Private
      Top four individual reasons
       Staff treat me respectfully84176081868582888684868679
       Services are confidential82171486828081848480828677
       Can get free or low-cost services801675788378808183799174
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      72
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
       Staff know about women's health80165775818378828180818175
      Summary groups
       Accessibility89186490898988919090889288
      Location is convenient72149771737070747469707766
      Hours fit my schedule731528687379
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      6978
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      7473747669
      Don't wait long for appointment66137965656962706764676862
       Interaction with staff88184285898986918989908984
      Staff treat me respectfully84176081868582888684868679
      Staff take time to talk to me77160375777975817977788071
       Affordability85178184878483898982928773
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      Can get free or low-cost services801675788378808183799174
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      72
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      Can use Medicaid357193234342546
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      40262264
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      12
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
       Women's health focus85177985868684878785868881
      Staff know about women's health80165775818378828180818175
      Easy to talk to staff about sex and birth control71148572736670737566727663
       Method availability841750888676
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      85838682848779
      Can get the method I want77159778787177767976777873
      Can get birth control, not just prescription741536767864
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      73757771747868
       Confidentiality831739888381
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      82858581838878
      Services are confidential82171486828081848480828677
      Won't see people I know26548332620
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      27242724253024
       Referrals5611626555
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      47
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      54565949
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      576048
      Friends or family recommended clinic5010326248
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      39
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      50485342
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      515343
      Other doctor recommended clinic265441929
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      262132
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      2823253120
      Other
       Staff can refer me for other health care6713996767686373
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      7164687161
       Teen or young adult services5210817450
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      36
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      53485544
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      495649
       Childcare available173551020
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      15732
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      19141623
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      8
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      Abbreviations: FPL, Federal poverty level; ref, reference group.
      Significantly different from reference group at p < .05.
      Medicaid includes other public or state-sponsored insurance plans.
      The four individual reasons reported as very important by at least 80% of respondents were: “The staff here treat me respectfully” (84%), “Services here are confidential” (82%), “I can get free or low-cost services here” (80%), and “The staff here know about women's health”(80%). For teens, “Services here are confidential” was the top individual reason (86%), and for uninsured women, “I can get free or low-cost services” was the top reason (90%).
      When reasons were combined into summary groups, six of the seven groups were reported as very important by more than 8 in 10 respondents (83%–89%). Accessibility was ranked at the top, with 89% of respondents reporting that at least one of three access-related reasons (location, hours, or wait time) was very important to their clinic choice. A similarly high percentage of respondents (88%) reported that the way they were treated by clinic staff (respectfully, or that staff take time to talk to me) was very important to their decision to visit the clinic. Affordability (either free or low-cost services or ability to use Medicaid) was very important to 85% of respondents; the same percentage reported that the clinic's focus on women's health (staff knowledge about women's health or easy to talk to staff about sex and birth control) was very important. Contraceptive method availability (can get the method I want or can get supplies, not just a prescription) was very important to 84% of respondents, and confidentiality (services are confidential or I won't see people I know) was very important to 83% of respondents. Just over half (56%) of respondents reported that having been referred to the clinic (either by friends, family, or another doctor or clinic) was very important to their choice to visit this clinic. For two thirds of respondents, the fact that staff at the clinic can refer them to other providers was very important to their choice; half of respondents said that the availability of teen or young adult services was important; and 17% reported that the availability of childcare was important.
      Overall, there was relatively little variation among respondents in terms of what they valued and why they chose to visit the specialized family planning clinic. Accessible, affordable, confidential care delivered by respectful staff who are knowledgeable about contraceptive and reproductive health was considered very important by the vast majority of respondents from all major demographic subgroups. There were a few unsurprising variations: 92% of uninsured respondents reported that affordability was very important compared with 73% of respondents with private insurance. Method availability and confidentiality were relatively more important for teenagers compared with women in their 30s (88% vs. 76% for method availability and 88% vs. 81% for confidentiality), as was the availability of teen or young adult services. Women with children were more likely than those without to report that the availability of childcare was important to their clinic choice. There was also little variation in women's reasons for coming to the clinic by whether the respondent had received care from other providers during the year, had only visited this clinic, or had received no prior health care (data not shown).

      Discussion

      This study illustrates the role that family planning clinics that specialize in provision of reproductive health services play within the U.S. health care safety net. The women surveyed chose to seek care at a specialized family planning clinic, even though they had other choices in their communities. Although women typically gave multiple reasons for their choice, they most frequently said that they chose the specialized clinic because they felt that they would be treated with respect. The desire to be accorded respect was important to women regardless of age, income, insurance status, or whether they already had children.
      Large majorities of women also said that they chose the family planning clinic because the staff is knowledgeable about—or easy to talk to about—sexual and reproductive issues or because the clinic makes it easy for them to get the contraceptive method they want, and to do so directly, without having to make a separate trip to a pharmacy to have a prescription filled. Provision of a broad package of contraceptive and related sexual and reproductive health (SRH) care services is a central feature of the specialized family planning clinic network that continues to be important to women. In fact, compared with primary care–focused family planning clinics, specialized clinics have been shown to provide a greater range of contraceptive methods, are more likely to have implemented streamlined method dispensing protocols, including dispensing methods on site, and to spend more time with clients during initial contraceptive examinations (
      • Frost J.J.
      • Gold R.B.
      • Frohwirth L.
      • Blades N.
      Variation in service delivery practices among clinics providing publicly funded family planning services in 2010.
      ).
      Confidentiality, yet another hallmark of the family planning clinic system, also featured prominently in the decision-making process, especially for teens. Importantly, confidentiality played a role not only in where the women chose to go for care but also in how they paid for their care. Nearly one in five insured women who indicated they were not planning to use their insurance to pay for their care said that they were not doing so because of confidentiality concerns. Not surprisingly, teens were the most likely to say confidentiality was the reason for not using their coverage. Teens are almost always insured as dependents on someone else's insurance policy. Widely used claims processing procedures, most notably the practice of sending explanation-of-benefit forms to the policyholder (who is often a parent or a spouse) make it virtually impossible for someone insured as a dependent to access confidential care (
      • English A.
      • Gold R.B.
      • Nash E.
      • Levine J.
      Confidentiality for individuals insured as dependents: A review of state laws and policies.
      ).
      Almost 6 in 10 of the women surveyed said they had received at least some health care from a different provider in their community over the course of the last year, but still chose to obtain their contraceptive care from a separate provider with specialized expertise in family planning service provision. For the remaining 4 in 10 clients, the family planning clinic was their only source of health care during the year. For many of these women, the family planning clinic serves as an entry point to the health care system, a role that presents family planning clinics with a vital obligation. If this is the first stop in the health care system for many of their clients, family planning clinics need to be prepared to connect them to both insurance coverage for which they may be eligible and to other health care that they may need. Family planning clinics have taken important steps in both these directions, providing application assistance that facilitates Medicaid enrollment and establishing linkages and referral mechanisms to meet clients' needs—96% of specialized family planning clinics reported regularly referring their clients to primary care clinics in their community (
      • Frost J.J.
      • Gold R.B.
      • Frohwirth L.
      • Blades N.
      Variation in service delivery practices among clinics providing publicly funded family planning services in 2010.
      ).
      One of this study's strengths—targeting data collection to women attending specialized family planning clinics in communities with comprehensive care centers—also presents some limitations. The data are not nationally representative of all women going to family planning clinics and some of the indicators reported here, especially those related to what and where services were received in the prior year, will be influenced by the fact that we were targeting communities known to have multiple safety-net providers available. For example, the percentage of clients who made a visit to a provider other than the family planning clinic during the year is potentially higher in this sample than in the general population owing to greater access to multiple providers in the communities of sampled clinics. Therefore, our results likely underestimate the percentage of women who rely on family planning clinics as their only source of medical care. The fact that there was little variation in women's reasons for going to the specialized clinic, either according to demographic subgroups or prior use of services suggests that these reasons are relatively universal and are less likely to be biased owing to our targeted sampling strategy. However, because we did not survey women who were obtaining contraceptive care from comprehensive primary care clinics, we do not know how their reasons for choosing a clinic differ from those of women going to specialty family planning clinics.
      These data complement prior studies suggesting that, for some women, specialized family planning clinics provide necessary care that is less often available at primary care–focused clinics, and point to possible strategies for restructuring family planning clinic services in the new health care environment. For example, it may be important to develop collaborations between specialized family planning clinics and comprehensive service providers, such as FQHCs (

      Gold, R. B., Zakheim, M., Schulte, J. M., Wood, S., Beeson, T., & Rosenbaum, S. (2011). A natural fit: Collaborations between community health centers and family planning clinics. Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, Policy Research Brief #26. Retrieved from. http://www.rchnfoundation.org/.

      ;
      • Shin P.
      • Rosenbaum S.
      • Paradise J.
      Community health centers: The challenge of growing to meet the need for primary care in medically underserved communities.
      ). Given the potential capacity limitations of FQHCs to absorb all of the anticipated increase in demand for care arising, at least in part, from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (
      • Shin P.
      • Sharac J.
      Opportunities and challenges for community health centers in meeting women’s health care needs.
      ,

      Shin, P., & Sharac, J. (2012b). Role of community health centers in providing services to low-income women. Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, Policy Research Brief #28. Retrieved from. http://www.gwumc.edu/.

      ), coupled with the fact that many women prefer to obtain contraceptive care from specialized providers, it makes sense to capitalize on the strengths of both systems. FQHCs are skilled at providing a broad range of primary care services, whereas family planning clinics have a particular expertise in providing confidential contraceptive and other closely related preventive care.
      Partnerships between FQHCs and family planning clinics could make it easy for women to obtain their contraceptive care at a family planning clinic and the rest of their care at an FQHC, while allowing for integrated electronic health records when confidentiality concerns are not prohibitive. They could also permit women who use a family planning clinic as their entry point to the system to be easily referred to the FQHC for needed health care beyond the scope of that provided by the family planning clinic, again with integrated health records. These collaborations could leverage the unique strengths of both of these important safety-net providers while benefiting the communities they serve.

      Acknowledgments

      Jennifer J. Frost is senior research associate, Rachel Benson Gold is director of policy analysis, and Amelia Bucek is research assistant, all with the Guttmacher Institute, in New York and Washington, DC.
      The authors thank the following Guttmacher colleagues: Lawrence Finer, Laura Lindberg and Cory Richards for guidance and helpful comments on survey design and article drafts; Lori Frohwirth for fieldwork management; Carolyn Cox, Michelle Eilers, Allison Grossman, and Jesse Philbin for research assistance; and Fatima Juarez for translation services. The authors extend special gratitude to the Title X program administrators who assisted with clinic recruitment, to clinic administrators and staff who facilitated survey fieldwork, and to the women who participated in this study.

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      Biography

      Jennifer J. Frost, DrPH, is a Senior Research Associate with the Guttmacher Institute, New York, NY. Her areas of research expertise include contraceptive behavior, unintended pregnancy and family planning service provision among publicly funded clinics in the United States.
      Rachel Benson Gold, MPA, is Director of Policy Analysis with the Guttmacher Institute, Washington, DC. Her areas of expertise include the delivery and financing of publicly funded family planning services in the United States.
      Amelia Bucek, BA, is a former Research Assistant at the Guttmacher Institute, New York, NY. She is currently a graduate student at the University of Michigan where she is pursuing an MPH with a focus on health behavior and health education.