LillyDirect Poised to Shake Up Access to Obesity Care

Directional LinesEli Lilly and Company has taken the unusual step of starting a direct to consumer clinical care and pharmacy program for obesity, diabetes, and migraine. If you have any doubt that LillyDirect will shake up the landscape for access to obesity care, just ask the folks at WeightWatchers. Their stock dropped by 11% yesterday when Lilly announced their new telehealth and drug delivery initiative.

Stepping Into a Big Mess

Access to expert obesity care and to the medications that can effectively treat it has become a big mess. There are too few providers, the drugs are in short supply, and list prices are high. Coverage by health insurance ranges from convoluted to impossible.

In announcing LillyDirect, Lilly CEO David Ricks gave the Wall Street Journal a concise statement of the problem:

“We’ve noticed that patients often struggle to manage their disease not because of the medicine itself but because the pathway to getting the medicine can be really challenging. Sometimes that’s the pharmacy experience where products are out of stock or markups in pricing are confusing.”

This is a hint that Lilly aims to take some of the nonsense out of this process. Time will tell if they really do.

An Alliance with Established Providers

No doubt Lilly has been working on this strategy for a while. They have their website up and running. To make this possible, they partnered with established providers for each of their program components. For telehealth clinical services, they partnered with Form Health, a high quality provider of obesity telemedicine. For pharmacy services, they utilized Eversana and Trupill – two established providers of specialty pharmacy services. They appear to be experienced in collaborating with pharmaceutical companies.

Many Unanswered Questions

No doubt, this is innovative. Stock analyst Evan Siegerman told Reuters this move puts Lilly ahead of the curve:

“In our view, the DTC (direct-to-consumer) model is ideal for obesity medications and drives uptake and lowers barriers to new patient starts for Zepbound.”

Curiously, the LillyDirect site did not list Mounjaro (the diabetes brand of tirzepatide) as part of the program. The diabetes medicines on the site were all insulin products. No GLP-1 medicines at all. At this point, it’s difficult to know if this has any significance.

What is clear, though, is that this is totally new. So there will be bumps along the way. Much will change. But we hope that the net effect will be to spark even more innovation toward better access to obesity care.

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Directional Lines, painting by Olga Rozanova / WikiArt

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January 5, 2024

4 Responses to “LillyDirect Poised to Shake Up Access to Obesity Care”

  1. January 05, 2024 at 12:38 pm, Angela Golden said:

    Interesting to say the least, but VERY disappointing. The site doesn’t acknowledge NPs and PAs treating obesity so once again we have a large organization that is ignoring a large set of providers that are providing excellent obesity care. The site to “find a doctor” lists only physicians. Shame on Lilly for this.

    • January 06, 2024 at 4:18 am, Ted said:

      Angela, with too few professionals delivering good obesity care and a growing number of PAs and NPs with skill for providing it, you’re right. This is a significant omission.

  2. January 07, 2024 at 6:56 am, Domenica Rubino said:

    I am just curious as to why we accept telemedicine so readily for the treatment of obesity after we have been struggling to get obesity accepted as a disease ( a complex one at that) and we know that for many individuals the disease is complicated by multiple co-existing disease states that need to be assessed and treated? We also know that due to stigma/shame, many individuals suffer from poor care, go untreated for serious medical issues and it is not uncommon to arrive at clinic with uncontrolled hypertension, atrial fibrillation or a condition blamed on obesity and undiagnosed. Is it really only about weight? Or is it about taking care of the whole individual and optimizing health and quality of life. Furthermore, management of side effects is not always optimally managed by just talking and prescribing–examination in person can be critical.

    The push against PBMs/insurers who have been duplicitous in the fight over for 25 years for coverage and have zero liability in medical decision making, but we should not confuse the two aspects of the treatment of obesity. At the end of the day though, these medications need to be made affordable and available to the people who need it the most, not just the people who can pay cash.

    • January 07, 2024 at 7:20 am, Ted said:

      Very important questions, Domenica. Thank you!