The Pros and Cons of Telemedicine for Easier Access to Prescription Medications

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Image from MobiHealth News

Madison McGuire

Telemedicine (the ability to get medical care by text, phone, or video chat) is increasingly combined with Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising. This seems to represent an attempt to increase sales of prescription medications by lowering the barriers and inconveniences of visiting a doctor. Many of the medications are for discretionary treatments. In some cases, the pitch includes a seeming medicalization of normal aging, such as the increased difficulty getting or sustaining erections and hair loss in men. It may also benefit pharmaceutical companies to suggest that normal aspects of human existence, such as performance anxiety, are conditions to be treated with a pill.   

In DTC telemedicine, people complete an initial questionnaire that is reviewed by a clinician. Once select patients are notified over the phone or a video call, the prescription is either sent electronically to a local pharmacy or the medication is mailed directly to the patient’s home, often paid for out of pocket. 

DTC telemedicine visits have several potential advantages over traditional clinic visits as a more standardized, efficient, convenient, and accessible model of care. The questionnaire can be structured to increase clinician efficiency. The increased efficiency and decreased overhead costs of an in-person clinic lower patient costs while increasing profit margins. 

People may also benefit from the convenience of obtaining these medications without leaving their home, which may result in increased access to care for those in rural areas, patients without insurance, and those who feel uncomfortable talking about these sensitive health issues in person. An example of where this convenience might make sense is for prescribing and delivering birth control pills.  

However, DTC telemedicine raises concerns about its effect on quality of care. The questionnaire is focused on screening for patients who don’t qualify to take the medication offered, rather than on finding the best possible treatment for a patient’s medical problem. The questionnaire may deemphasize the importance of healthier daily habits, accommodating the body’s changes, and working to improve mindset and circumstances for optimal health. In the guise of convenience, companies may be profiting from exploitation of individual vulnerabilities and insecurities, as well as the medicalization of aspects of a healthy human life.  


One thought on “The Pros and Cons of Telemedicine for Easier Access to Prescription Medications”

  1. It sure was nice that you mentioned that telemedicine provides access to care for those in rural areas and patients without insurance. As you said, you can obtain medications without leaving your home. This is something that I will consider because I would like to consult a professional about hormonal imbalance. I have been gaining a lot of weight and suffering from mood swings that affect my relationship with my family. Since I want everything to be done in the comfort of my home, your tips would be beneficial.

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