Dr. B: Expanding the business model from COVID vaccines to antiviral medications

Views & Analysis
COVID vaccines

Cyrus Massoumi, founder of Dr. B, tells us about his online platform that makes physician assessment readily available to patients and provides access to COVID-19 therapeutics that may otherwise be difficult to obtain.

COVID-19 antiviral medications Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir/ritonavir) and Lagevrio (molnupiravir) must be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms, but obtaining these medications within that window is difficult for some. Massoumi says Dr. B allows patients to receive the drugs promptly, without an in-person office visit, and, at times, at no cost.

“We have created the first telehealth company that makes healthcare services available regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. I have always been passionate about improving the efficiency and equity of healthcare. One of my biggest regrets with Zocdoc is that we didn’t do enough to ensure everyone has access to healthcare. I’m trying to correct that with Dr. B,” Massoumi says.

Connecting with a physician promptly to obtain COVID-19 antivirals is crucial for some patients, but healthcare access can sometimes be challenging.

The platform

Dr. B was founded in 2021 to connect providers with leftover COVID vaccines to the patients seeking to receive them.

As the pandemic progressed, the platform evolved to meet other needs that have materialised within the healthcare sector, including recently unveiling its “Visitless Prescriptions” service.

"We are currently focused on offering a convenient way to get prescriptions. Our doctor consultations only cost $15, less than the average insurance copay. Also, over 90 million Americans don't have healthcare coverage or can't afford it. For low-income Americans, we offer our service at no cost," Massoumi states.

Patients share their medical history and key details via an online health assessment. A physician then reviews the information and provides a prescription for any necessary medicines the patient needs. Medications can then be filled by a pharmacy of the patient's choice.

Though it’s not an online pharmacy that fills patients’ medication, it’s looking to offer a way for patients to easily compare drug prices in the future, including listing name-brand drugs against generic versions.

"Access to healthcare is a really difficult problem and one that I think all healthcare companies have a responsibility to help solve. We are focused on removing access and cost barriers when it comes to trying to get prescription medications," Massoumi states.

"Getting a doctor's appointment to access critical medications is still hard for many people as it can be difficult and often take too long to make a doctor's appointment for prescriptions like COVID-19 treatments. Our easy-to-use platform offers a hassle-free way to get prescriptions online without needing an appointment. Offering a no-cost option is also unprecedented for a telehealth start-up and is a huge step in terms of expanding access to care."

COVID-19 antivirals, specifically, have become hard to access for some patients. Many requirements accompany the distribution of the drugs to patients, and for a good reason.

Accessing antivirals

Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck & Co’s Molnupiravir are two oral antiviral treatments authorised for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms at a high risk of developing severe illness. Both drugs are accessible via prescription only.

"We have been committed to expanding access to COVID-19 resources from day one – especially when existing solutions aren't quite able to meet patient needs. Our platform was first launched in the U.S. at the height of the COVID crisis to save lives by getting vaccines to people who needed them. It was a natural transition for us to shift to expanding access to COVID-19 therapeutics," Massoumi says.

For both medicines, it's necessary to take them within five days of the onset of symptoms. While COVID antiviral pills Paxlovid and Molnupiravir have been available for several months, many people have difficulty getting a doctor's prescription during the five-day window.

"Individuals have one or two pathways to get antiviral medication once they test positive for COVID-19. If you have healthcare coverage and a regular doctor, you have to hope that they have immediate availability for an appointment in order to get a prescription within five days. If you don't have healthcare coverage or a regular doctor, your other option is to go to a pharmacy to get tested and prescribed there. While waiting in line at the pharmacy, you may also be spreading COVID-19 to others," Massoumi states.

According to the FDA, one must also meet specific requirements before being approved to take these drugs, which include having no known or suspected severe renal impairment and no known or suspected severe hepatic impairment.

"Every prescription request is reviewed by a board-certified physician and our health assessment screens each patient carefully to make sure they are eligible for the medication based on FDA guidelines. Patients must submit a photo of a positive COVID-19 test and are asked questions about symptoms, pre-existing conditions, and medications they currently take to ensure they are eligible for treatment with Paxlovid or Molnupiravir," Massoumi states.

"If a patient has a complicated medical issue that the physician thinks would better benefit from them meeting with their regular doctor, the patient is informed of that, and we don't move forward with providing them a prescription."

There's also the possibility of COVID-19 rebound infections after taking Paxlovid; therefore, the ability to follow up with a physician is necessary.

Following the initial visit, patients can ask questions about their prescriptions or speak with a physician via an online patient dashboard through Dr. B.

"COVID-19 antivirals are important, life-saving drugs that are especially important to get if you're high-risk. We have created a service where people can easily upload their COVID-19 test results, complete a convenient online health assessment on their own time, and get reviewed by a doctor in 24 hours. The barrier for most individuals is getting the prescription itself. Once they have a script, they can have many pharmacies to choose from since the antivirals are widely distributed," Massoumi states.

About the interviewee

Cyrus MassoumiCyrus Massoumi is the founder and CEO of Dr. B, a telehealth company with a mission to make healthcare more efficient and equitable. Previously, Massoumi founded Zocdoc, which he led for eight years. He is also a founder and partner at humbition, an early-stage venture firm. He is a member of the Board of Advisors of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. He graduated with a degree in finance from the Wharton School and then completed an MBA from Columbia Business School.

About the author

Jessica HagenJessica Hagen is a freelance life sciences and health writer and project manager who has worked with medical XR companies, fiction/nonfiction authors, nonprofit and for-profit organisations and government entities.