What to know about getting allergy, acne and depression medication by mail

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Whatever you need in the next minute or ten – sheets, coffee, razor blades – there’s a slick start-up that promises to have the best product, the easiest ordering process and the fastest delivery. more fluid. But should you really click on all those ads in your social feeds for free medical consultations and easy, cheap medications? “It’s good and bad…it’s complicated,” says Ateev Mehrotra, MD, associate professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School. Here’s what to consider before clicking through to order drugs from a new online supplier.

The Benefits of Wellness Websites

First, the big deal: If you don’t have a doctor or don’t have time to wait to see the one you have, one click on these sites promises to take care of it. You’ll have an easier time finding potential treatment for health issues, especially ones that are stigmatizing, like anxiety and hair loss.

And the sites could also save you money. Even with health insurance, a visit to a specialist can cost you $50 or more in copays. “Your local doctor has to rent an office with a waiting room, pay a receptionist at the front desk, and can only see about 20 patients a day,” says Dr. Mehrotra. “But doctors on these sites can sometimes see information from hundreds of patients in a day, which allows them to charge a lot less.” Sometimes the site doesn’t even charge for the consultation, just the treatment. Although many such companies do not accept insurance, their drug prices are often lower than what you would typically pay at a brick-and-mortar pharmacy.

The inconvenients

For all the ease, you probably lack expertise. “You’re supposed to go see a doctor, tell them what’s going on, share some medical history, and then the doctor tells you what you have and what you need to do to treat it,” says Dr. Mehrotra. But with prescription sites, you have already decided what your problem is (depression or allergies, for example) and you are looking for a drug to treat it. “Are you correctly diagnosed? That’s what I wonder,” he said.

Worse still, experts fear that these sites will distribute drugs to anyone asking for them. “They use their screening questionnaires to weed out people who can’t use the drug, but they don’t ask if anyone should use it,” says Suzanne Bollmeier, Pharm.D., of the University of Science in Health and Pharmacy of Saint Louis. Not to mention the fact that behind the curtain, venture capitalists have become very interested in health care and new business models, says Dr. Mehrotra. “They want to grow fast, get lots of venture capital funding, get a good valuation and get bought out.” It’s a very different approach to, say, a doctor taking the Hippocratic oath

All of this means that it’s up to you to monitor what’s going on. “Many sites say you can access it whenever you want, but there’s no tracking to make sure your body is managing the medication properly,” says Bollmeier. In fact, many sites encourage you to set up subscriptions for your medications, so you’re more likely to keep them coming. Automatic rearrangement is great for dog food, but maybe not for controlled substances.

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What to ask before clicking

If you have a single problem with a clear medical solution, clicking may be enough. “But if you have multiple medical issues, my concern about that skyrockets,” says Dr. Mehrotra. “When you have a company for mental illness, another for hair loss and another for allergies, you have a lot more people who don’t talk to each other.”

If you’re on the “I’m relatively healthy and want to try” side, be sure to ask these questions:

Who does the prescribing?

“A lot of these sites have big, famous doctors linked to them, but they’re often the counselors, not the ones caring for the patients,” says Chad Ellimootil, MD, director of the University of Washington’s Telehealth Research Incubator. Michigan. Check that there is more than one algorithm that determines whether you pass the screening. You should still be able to access a real person.

Will you be monitored?

“It’s really important to have longitudinal care, like if you’re taking testosterone, you need to check your PSA levels and your hemoglobin,” says Dr. Ellimootil. Make sure there is someone who determines when you need certain tests and when you need to change or stop medications.

Can you keep track of your own medical records?

Some of the drugs available on these sites may have major interactions with others. For example, alpha-blockers taken with Viagra can create a dangerous drop in blood pressure. Your primary care provider should know everything you are taking.

What to know about some of the hot new websites

The company: Curex

How it works: Not sure if that stuffy nose is from ragweed or your pup? Curex will send you an allergy test kit to find out. All you have to do is prick your finger, take a blood sample and post it for analysis. Then chat with one of the Curex clinicians to review the results and get medication. Note: This type of test only detects indoor and outdoor allergens (so you won’t find an allergy to shellfish, for example).

The cost: $129 for the kit; meds start at $65 per month with a three-year plan.

Things to know before trying: The results can be misinterpreted. “A positive test may not mean you have this allergy,” says Jay Portnoy, MD, of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. This might be fine if you just need medication to control the sneezing. But consult an allergist before giving your dog.


The company: Keep

How it works: Choose your baldness pattern, submit photos, complete a medical history questionnaire, and every three months Keeps sends you medication to give your hair new life. Some states require an Rx from your own doctor before receiving medication; others allow you to use the materials on the spot. Products include finasteride and minoxidil, both of which are relatively safe for long-term use, according to dermatologist Annie Gonzalez, MD, of Riverchase Dermatology in Miami.

The cost: The first medical consultation is free and follow-ups cost $5; medications start at $10 per month.

Things to know before trying: Be sure to talk about follow-ups. “You want your baseline PSA level before you start finasteride, and it needs to continue to be monitored,” says Dr. Gonzalez.


How it works: This dermatology service allows you to send photos of your problems and answer questions about the treatments you have tried. In two days, he will send a plan. Medications include creams like tretinoin (an acne and wrinkle fighter) and metronidazole (for rosacea) as well as oral medications.

The cost: $20 for the initial consultation, which is credited to your prescription; medications start at $10 per month.

Things to know before trying: AI is generally considered to be quite good at diagnosing common skin problems, but you’ll still need live dermis if your spot requires a biopsy.


The company: of mind

How it works: This company wants you to stop putting off refills of your anti-anxiety or antidepressants. Complete an assessment, then talk to a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner to see what you might need.

The cost: The evaluation is free; membership is $40 per month, not including medication; currently only available in CA, FL, IL, NJ, NY, PA and TX.

Things to know before trying: Our experts don’t like you getting these drugs online. They can have serious side effects and complications, says MH psychiatric counselor Gregory Scott Brown, MD Don’t be tempted to replace your doctor with a service like this. Also, some of these drugs can be difficult to quit, so be sure to talk about an exit strategy before you start.

This story originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Men’s health.

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