How do you get men excited about decades-old pills for hair loss, erectile dysfunction and other potentially embarrassing health conditions?
Online startups including Hims and Roman are banking on a mix of convenience, viral marketing and glossy packaging to turn generic prescription drugs and other pharmacy staples into a profitable new business model. But some in the medical establishment are raising concerns about their marketing and the quality of care they provide.
“There are both opportunities to improve access to care, but also risks to patients, and I think regulators are having to address that,” said Lisa Robin, an executive with the Federation of State Medical Boards, which represents the organizations that license and discipline physicians.
The group has been advising U.S. physicians to carefully consider “their professional and ethical duties” before signing up to work for the companies.
Hims and Roman each said in separate statements that their doctors are required to deliver the same standard of care on their platforms as they do in person.
The Uber of prescription drugs
Like other on-demand services, Hims and Roman promise consumers quick, convenient access to what they want. That means customers essentially self-diagnose, selecting the medication of their choice and – pending approval by a doctor – allergies and other details.
Similar companies specialize in contraceptives, sleep medications and pills for anxiety. Backing the trend are millions in venture dollars from investors searching for the next Warby Parker or Dollar Shave Club – blockbuster online brands that have upended the markets for eyeglasses and razors by cutting out traditional retailers.