Drug ads have long tried to influence patients’ medical choices, directing them to “ask your doctor” if a marketed medication is right for them. But now, pharma companies have an even more powerful tool to start those conversations and turn them into prescriptions: telemedicine.
When a patient sees an ad or visits a manufacturer’s website today, many will find buttons to “talk to a doctor now” about their symptoms. Clicking through will take them to a third-party site that asks questions about their health — and eligibility for the drugmaker’s specific product — before letting them schedule a visit with an online provider.
In most cases, if a patient is eligible, those video and text-based visits end in a prescription for the drug a patient clicked on. “Typically, it’s consumer driven: I want to know if I can have this medication. Can you prescribe it for me or not? And that is the course of action that we are set up for,” said Ross Pope, chief operating and financial officer for Prescribery, one company that provides telehealth integrations for pharma companies. Once a script reaches a pharmacy, some companies will even factor in manufacturer coupons or negotiate with insurance to get prescriptions covered.
STAT is reporting on the fast-growing market for ad-linked telehealth, which comes with a clear appeal for pharma and could give some patients easier access to medicines. But medical ethics and health policy experts worry this emerging industry could drive up unnecessary prescribing, ultimately benefiting pharma’s bottom line far more than patient care.
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