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Taboos With Telehealth: Is the Vimpro Model the Future of Men’s Healthcare?

If men’s health outcomes are to be improved, we need to create new pathways for men to access healthcare – pathways that swerve these social barriers.

Men are not going to their doctors, and it’s killing them.

65% of men avoid seeking medical advice, with 37% actively withholding information from their doctors, according to a survey of US men. This is one of the main reasons why men suffer disproportionately from preventable health conditions, and die an average of 5 years younger than women, according to the World Health Organization.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Common explanations for not seeking medical support include lack of flexible appointment times (61%), a lack of health insurance (20%) and “not wanting to know” (37%), especially relating to ‘taboo’ topics, including sexual and mental health.

In a 2019 editorial, The Lancet wrote that: “Strong beliefs, norms, attitudes, and stereotypes of masculinity are prevalent and harmful for men’s health. These beliefs create social barriers that prevent men from seeking medical services and that expose them to greater risks.”

The way forward is clear. If men’s health outcomes are to be improved, we need to create new pathways for men to access healthcare – pathways that swerve these social barriers.

Innovations in digital health and the VIMPRO model

Providing men with access to properly-integrated virtual and remote care is one effective way of improving their engagement with health services.

A 2020 paper notes that social stigma prevents men from confiding within healthcare professionals, adding that: “This is exactly the area of healthcare that telemedicine seeks to address. By providing personalized care to patients within the privacy of a patient’s home, telemedicine companies are able to deliver healthcare services to patients seeking consultations regarding topics that had previously been considered too shameful to address in a public space.”

However, building digital-first offerings into health systems risks stretching budgets and capacity beyond breaking point. To mitigate this, healthcare providers have embraced an alternative model giving male patients access to the benefits of digital health: the VIMPRO (Vertically Integrated Micro-Providers).

What is a VIMPRO?

A VIMPRO refers to a digital healthcare provider that delivers an end-to-end service to a specific patient group: for example, men suffering from ‘taboo’ health conditions. Typically offering diagnostics, consultations, treatment plans and medication delivery, a number of VIMPROs have already been successfully integrated within national healthcare systems

These platforms have proven to be incredibly impactful in the men’s health space, providing discrete and barrier-free access to education and treatment for erectile dysfunction, obesity, hair loss and depression.

How VIMPROs are helping improve men’s health 

According to a 2018 paper: “Effective strategies for addressing men’s health issues require a comprehensive understanding of men’s health needs, which involves not only an understanding of the epidemiology of men’s health but also their health-seeking behaviors and the social structure surrounding men.”

The VIMPRO model directly addresses this – providing direct access to specialist clinical support – across all male health areas, including mental health, sexual health and gut health – while taking into consideration men’s health-seeking behaviours, including any around seeking help.

Market leaders in the men’s health VIMPRO space, Numan, offer a user-friendly VIMPRO platform that takes men from a free online consultation to medication delivery in 24 hours. Users needn’t travel to a GP or a pharmacist to pick up their prescription or medication. By eliminating the complications and embarrassment associated with seeking medical support, Numan has tapped into a market of men wanting to take control of their health. Last September, they raised $40M – the largest ever fundraise in the men’s health sector and evidence of their robust market positioning – to support the scale up of their platform across the UK and Europe.

The future of men’s health

Getting men’s healthcare provision ‘right’ is a challenge fraught with physiological, environmental and sociological hurdles.  Although they are not the solution to every problem, VIMPROs offer a highly specialized solution to men’s health needs – providing fast, accurate medical advice and prescriptions while overcoming many of the existing barriers.

When built with the right tech and integrations, VIMPROs are on track to play a fundamental role in tackling taboos and transforming men’s health outcomes.

Photo: Chinnapong, Getty Images

Adam Hunter is a trained solicitor based in Scotland, UK, and a former Saltire Fellow at Babson College. Adam is the CCO at Phlo Connect, an API-driven pharmacy infrastructure platform delivering enhanced patient and clinician experiences. Phlo Connect integrates with prescribing technologies and digital health platforms used by the NHS and by private healthcare providers, from the initial consult and prescribing, and processes the request through to patient delivery.