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Providing A Unique Patient Experience Beyond Lifestyle Meds: The New DTC Healthcare Opportunity

In recent months, the landscape of healthcare as we know it has changed. Now more than ever, health enterprises are adopting and embracing DTC telehealth solutions and online pharmacies, and record numbers of consumers are eager to harness the convenience and power of digital healthcare. In fact, a recent McKinsey report states that “telehealth utilization has stabilized at levels 38x higher than before then pandemic,” signaling a significant shift in consumer attitude and practice.

While many existing healthcare enterprises are exploring DTC telehealth and telepharmacy services of their own, nailing down exactly which innovations will help them find success can be challenging – which is why understanding how to bridge that gap is key when starting or accelerating the growth of a telehealth brand seeking to step outside the “lifestyle” umbrella.

It’s never been easier for healthcare enterprises to take advantage of the rapid rise of DTC telehealth, but doing so the right way is crucial to long-term success. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketplaces in every industry are thriving, and recognize that the convenience and peace of mind these brands offer them in their daily lives are irreplaceable. But, despite this paradigm shift, the DTC healthcare industry still faces many challenges that similar industries do not and entering the marketplace positioned to provide real value while also remaining compliant can be a tough task.

The Future of Healthcare

While some healthcare enterprises that started their DTC consumer offerings during the past year needed to implement services like digital prescription ordering and telemedicine as a reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, organizations launching new DTC services now have a blueprint for success and a recognition that there is a real market benefit to these services.

That said, building a DTC enterprise of any kind from scratch is incredibly daunting – and when you add prescriptions and doctor’s visits to the mix and thus have to contend with regulations at the local, state, and federal level, the challenges only continue to mount. Looking ahead to the future of DTC healthcare has never been more important.

Pharmaceutical companies, retail pharmacy chains, and physicians groups face a different set of challenges than their lifestyle medicine counterparts. VC-driven DTC companies like Curology or Roman are built to be tech-savvy and have the capacity to build their own software platforms from scratch. Traditional healthcare enterprises do not have the in-house capabilities of these new brands, and the available third-party software for critical functions, like patient intake forms, provider e-prescribing experiences, etc., is both inadequate and fragmented.

Building an entire enterprise’s worth of software is financially taxing and often not feasible from a timeline perspective, and while there is software out there that can manage parts of the process – such as telemedicine visits or prescription ordering and pickup – finding a “one stop shop” for all patient and provider needs is harder.

What has really become important in the race of DTC platforms when it comes to digital health is the software you use and how easy it is to customize it for patient, provider, and pharmaceutical company needs. That’s the first step in investing in your healthcare enterprise’s future, and it’s something that can’t be overstated.

Differentiated Experiences Through Integration

Despite the boom of healthcare DTC opportunities, most brands feel the need to build their platforms from scratch. By identifying the specific forms, applications, policies, and partnerships you need, you can circumvent that by finding solutions for your brand that will augment what you’ve already built instead of undermine it.

If your enterprise already puts some software or platforms in place for certain elements of your operations – like telemedicine, for instance – find software partners for the other areas where you’re lacking, and that will integrate well with the solutions you already have in place.

If you already have solid partnerships with pharmaceutical companies or physicians, shy away from platforms that require you to partner with their partners. Instead, look for a platform that is both comprehensive and customizable, and that will be able to accommodate the full consumer experience. Software solutions equipped to do the heavy lifting for you while also offering plug-and-play options so you can adopt solutions you need without being forced to adopt processes you don’t are vital to your brand’s ongoing success.

Revolutionize All Customer Experiences

On the customer side, remember that these consumers want a good experience. The reason why DTC lifestyle brands are so popular is because customers are not only paying for the product, but for the experience as well. While going to a physical doctor’s office or pharmacy may be a dry, dull, sterile experience, it doesn’t have to be.

Invest in software and technology solutions that allow you to customize your websites and interfaces to ensure that customers are engaging with your brand on a level that enables them to find the information and resources they need easily while also enjoying the time it takes to find that information.

To date, the most successful DTC telepharmacy brands have made their online experience akin to the streamlined and simple e-commerce shopping experiences of an Amazon or Etsy, despite marketing what have traditionally been harshly regulated products (medications.) The goal should be to place as few steps as possible between product selection and checkout.

The other big difference between DTC enterprises that operate in telehealth and pharmaceutical spaces and those that don’t is that the former is responsible for a lot more compliance and legal processes than the latter. Operating in a highly regulated environment is no small feat, and there are few industries more regulated than the pharmaceutical industry.

Among those unique challenges for enterprises entering the DTC space: finding compliant payment processing services (common services like Stripe and Square do not support telehealth/telepharmacy), licensed pharmacy fulfillment partners, and clinicians that are able to e-prescribe in the geography of a given operation. Working with a diverse slate of partners will help ensure that no matter the supply chain disruptions that may arise, consumers will be able to receive the timely care they need.

If your healthcare enterprise is interested in breaking out of the mold of cosmetics and food products, but are concerned about what it takes to enter telehealth or pharmaceutical DTC branding, rest assured: the framework is here and the future is wide open. By keeping compliance at the front of your mind, and ensuring you are ready, willing, and able to do the software evaluation, legal footwork, and necessary implementation to ensure your success, you will easily be able to harness all the technologies now available to create differentiated lifestyle experiences for DTC consumers.

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