Apr 3, 2019

Uber for pills: Prescription tech startups circumvent doctors' pad

In t his image, six differently shaped orange and white pill bottles sit on a wooden counter.

Photo: Elie Khadra/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

A new crop of tech startups is making prescription drugs available without ever needing to look a doctor in the eye.

Between the lines: These aren't the sketchy overseas sites that have been advertising Viagra for years. But they're still doing an end-run around doctors' traditional role in the system.

New York Times reporters obtained several prescriptions without speaking to a doctor. Here's what they found:

  • These sites — with names like Roman, Hers, Hims and Kick — advertise blood-pressure medication, Viagra and low-libido treatment Addyi. Some are marketed for uses the FDA hasn't approved, which is illegal.
  • Users simply fill out an online questionnaire, then get a note back from a doctor saying they've been approved and their drugs are in the mail.
  • One such response came back without even the doctor's name.

How it works: These sites, NYT explains, are not health care companies in the same way Uber argues it isn't a transportation operation — they're all just platforms. The doctors who sign these prescriptions work for third parties, and are paid an hourly rate for medical consultations.

Why it matters: These sites flout the idea that doctors use their clinical expertise to find the right treatment for the right patient, reducing them to more of a formality.

  • Realistically, though, this is not too far from how it often works with in-person doctors' visits. That's why pharma companies spend so much money on TV ads urging you to "talk to your doctor" about their products.
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