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Lilly launches direct-to-patient telehealth service

News
Article

Internal medicine physicians ‘concerned’ about patients ordering prescription drugs directly from pharmaceutical makers.

lilly cell phone stock report concept: © piter2121 - stock.adobe.com

© piter2121 - stock.adobe.com

Pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly and Company has launched a program to make its medicines directly available to patients with diabetes, migraine and obesity.

The drug manufacturer based in Indianapolis, Indiana, announced on Jan. 4 announced its new LillyDirect “digital health care experience,” with online access to independent health care providers. Patients can receive prescribed medications via direct home delivery, and NBC News reported the program was the first of its kind by a pharmaceutical company.

"A complex U.S. health care system adds to the burdens patients face when managing a chronic disease,” company Chair and CEO David A. Ricks said in a news release. “With LillyDirect, our goal is to relieve some of those burdens by simplifying the patient experience to help improve outcomes. LillyDirect offers more choices in how and where people access health care, including a convenient home delivery option to fill Lilly medicines they have been prescribed.

Effects on primary care?

The LillyDirect website includes a search engine for finding physicians for in-person health visits. The company also said “access to independent telehealth providers … could complement a patient’s current primary care team or be an alternative to in-person care for certain conditions.”

While access to health services is important, the development of patients buying drugs directly from manufacturers is concerning, said American College of Physicians (ACP) President Omar T. Atiq, MD, MACP.

“While information on in-person care is available, this direct-to-consumer approach is primarily oriented around the use of telehealth services to prescribe a drugmaker’s products,” Atiq said in a statement published Jan. 5.

“For telemedicine services to take place responsibly, there should be an established and valid patient-physician relationship, or the care should happen in consultation with a physician who does have an established relationship with the patient,” Atiq said.

“These direct-to-consumer services have the potential to leave patients confused and misinformed about medications,” Atiq’s statement said. “While efforts to remove barriers to care are important, they should not devalue the proven benefits of the patient-physician relationship.”

Seeking online care

Lilly lists the medical care providers FORM, with weight loss doctors and registered dietitians for obesity. Cove offers medicine and treatment plans for migraine, and 9amHealth has a medical team to create management programs for diabetes. All three providers’ websites note they accept various commercial insurance plans.

The company touts its online program for speed, access and convenience, and tells patients, “You no longer have to wait weeks or even months to get the health care you need.”

The NBC news report noted patients around the country live in medically underserved areas and the nation has a shortage of primary care physicians. With LillyDirect, FORM physicians may prescribe Lilly glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist drugs, but Ricks told NBC News FORM will not be required to prescribe them and will not be compensated for doing so.

Medical use, not cosmetic use

Also on Jan. 4, Lilly published its “Open Letter Regarding the Use of Mounjaro (tirzepatide) and Zepbound (tirzepatide).” Those drugs are used to treat disease, not for cosmetic purposes.

“Lilly Stands Against the Use of its Medicines for Cosmetic Weight Loss,” the letter said. The company also announced it is suing certain medical spas, wellness centers and compounding pharmacies for making or selling products with the active pharmaceutical ingredient for tirzepatide.

Mounjaro played a role in “another strong quarter” in the third quarter of 2023, Ricks said in the company’s quarterly earnings report. Volume growth in Mounjaro and Verzenio, a breast cancer drug, helped drive almost $9.5 billion in global revenue for Lilly for that quarter, up 37% from the third quarter of 2022. The company’s fourth-quarter earnings call is scheduled for Feb. 6.

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