The Verge documents Telehealth companies pushing for weight loss drugs

In a new report from The Verge, the author looks at the ads that have been meant to advertise weight loss drugs via telehealth companies. The author says that while traveling in the subway, “I saw a woman injecting herself alongside a panel promising “a weekly shot to lose weight.” This particular ad didn’t feature the names of the popular weight loss injections Ozempic, Wegovy, or Mounjaro. It didn’t warn about side effects, either. It looked like an ad for drop-shipped makeup or direct-to-consumer bras. The only name attached was “Ro.”

The report adds that “Ro is one of a slew of telehealth providers: a way to see a doctor without actually physically going to a doctor’s office. These companies have been around for a while, but they’ve boomed since the pandemic. And some of their practices have exposed regulatory loopholes — building up an Uber model for medicine, for instance. That’s just one of several ways to side-step regulations meant to keep consumers informed.”

Calling these ads as “falling into a gap”, the report adds that “There are a few loopholes that explain the explosion of advertising. First, there’s something called “help-seeking” advertisements, where a specific condition is referenced but no drug is suggested. Those ads fall under the purview of the FTC and are basically fine just as long as they aren’t false. But second, telehealth companies that are structured as technology platforms — just connecting patients with the doctors, ma’am — aren’t regulated by the FDA. Which means that if a telehealth platform posts an ad naming a drug, it does not have to abide by the FDA “fair balance” standard, and the FDA can’t pursue it for not doing so. If you were wondering why Instagram was briefly clogged with ads for ketamine therapy, that may help explain it”.

The author, being overweight, basically tried to get a prescription for weight loss drugs from Ro and adds that “The process of finding out was fairly easy, if a little unsettling. First, I filled out a form. Then, I uploaded two full-body photos of myself: from the front and from the side. Blood tests are required, and patients can either go to Quest Diagnostics and use their insurance for tests — Ro receives no money for this — or do an at-home test from Ro. If patients choose the at-home test, they pay Ro for it. I chose the at-home test”. However, the article says that at no point during the process was the author told to talk to a human.

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