In the media

Building on direct-to-patient marketing for improved access to therapeutics

Jenna Phillips

By Jenna Phillips

Life Science Leader

02 May 2024

PA Consulting health and life sciences expert Jenna Phillips authored an article for Life Science Leader regarding direct-to-patient marketing and questions that pharma companies should consider when launching products.

In January 2024, the US-based global pharmaceutical company Lilly announced the launch of LillyDirect, a direct-to-patient portal that enables some patients to access drugs including its novel weight loss drug Zepbound for as little as $25 per month, achieved in partnership with Amazon Pharmacy. In this model, the LillyDirect telehealth platform can supplement or serve as an alternative to in-patient care, operating similarly to other telehealth pharmacy-type offerings like Roman or Nurx. The key difference between Lilly’s model and other telehealth and tele-pharmacy offerings is that it distributes only Lilly’s products, though it does leverage a third-party telehealth service to achieve the care delivery.

Usage of telehealth services exploded due to restrictions on in-person care during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing 63-fold for Medicare patients from 840,000 visits conducted using telehealth in 2019 to 52.7 million in 2020. While the growth of telehealth has slowed, its usage remains far above pre-pandemic levels, with an average of 22% of adults reporting use of telehealth in the last four weeks, in a survey conducted in 2023 by the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

The novel merger of a telehealth platform leveraged for prescription — where appropriate — of a specific therapy may raise red flags for some. It appears to excise local primary care providers who have greater familiarity with a patient’s longitudinal health record, as well as payers who can provide an important check on over-prescribing drugs with potentially harmful side effects. There is some concern that patients whose health does not warrant a prescription for a weight loss drug may lie to gain access to these drugs, a practice described in the New Yorker, among other publications, in 2023.

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