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Over the course of the pandemic, online prescribing has been embraced as a powerful tool in health care — not just by patients, but by a growing number of drug companies. Drawn in by the promise of direct access to patients, dozens of pages run by pharmaceutical companies now offer a way for people scrolling their sites to connect directly with a virtual provider who can write a prescription.

It’s a powerful mashup of telehealth and direct-to-consumer advertising that has inspired increasing investment from drugmakers. They’re hoping to boost fill rates and tap into a wealth of patient data. But while pharma companies promise the new model will improve access for patients, health policy experts worry that gaps in regulatory oversight leave patients vulnerable to the unique risks of the approach. 


Direct-to-consumer telehealth often falls into what some experts describe as a regulatory gray zone. Federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration regulate drugs, including approved uses and claims made by ads and product labels. Meanwhile, states regulate the actual prescribing events — providers, pharmacies, and medical practice standards. 

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