Men’s health technology is creating shameless ways to get treatment

About 50 percent of men have erectile dysfunction. That’s not to say that half of all men around you have ED at some point. The statistic is aggregated across age groups, with the condition being more common in older men — 30 percent of men in their 30s, 40 percent in their 40s, and so on. But despite all the men it affects (not to mention their partners), ED isn’t something people talk about much. It remains a taboo topic – so much so that men even have a hard time bringing it up with doctors.

Gallery: In Roman online pharmacy for erectile dysfunction | 5 photos

Roman is an online full-service medical portal that diagnoses and prescribes treatment for erectile dysfunction. The service, which launched this week, is available in New York, California, Pennsylvania and Florida. On Roman’s website, you answer a series of questions, have your information reviewed by one of the company’s licensed physicians, and, if deemed appropriate by a physician, receive a prescription. You can choose to have your medication filled at a pharmacy of your choice or at Roman, who ships the pills within 24 hours in a discreet package.

This is the first time in the US that you can rely on a single digital healthcare provider for every step of the process, from diagnosis and prescription to delivery and follow-ups. Parts of this process have been around for years online, and in many forms. A company called Pager was founded three years ago in New York City with the promise of bringing doctors to people’s homes. In short, it facilitates home visits. But even then, that model still requires face-to-face contact with a medical professional. There’s also Heal, which offers a service similar to Pager’s, mostly in West Coast cities, while the now-defunct Go2Nurse sent nurses to you.

Individual, discreetly packaged pills at Roman’s pharmacy in New York City.

Then there are telehealth services like Teladoc, MDLive and, more recently, Maven and Lemonaid Health, which let you talk to a doctor via web or video chat. However, none of these will fill your prescription or deliver your medicine to your home. Some startups are in the drug and pill delivery business, but so far they specialize in birth control and personalized vitamins.

Roman’s all-in-one offering is unique in its own right, and if expanded to cover more conditions, it could benefit many people. But Roman’s founders are focusing on ED for now. The company’s CEO, Zachariah Reitano, 26, has experienced ED himself as a symptom of a heart condition he discovered when he was 17, and then as a side effect of medication for it. The other two co-founders, Rob Schutz and Saman Rahmanian, have kids of their own and want to “stay longer” for their kids, Reitano said.

Erectile dysfunction can act as a “check engine light,” according to Roman co-founder Zachariah Reitano.

“The strength of a man’s erection is a good indicator of his overall health,” Reitano told Engadget. ED often manifests in men with diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, or depression. It can act as a “check engine light,” he added. With that in mind, the company plans to eventually expand and address other men’s health concerns, starting with what appear to be their users’ most common ailments.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen tech companies try to address sensitive men’s health issues. In fact, there has been a surge of space startups recently. Earlier this year, Trak introduced its home sperm testing kit, which saves men a potentially embarrassing visit to a fertility clinic. A competitor called Yo also launched around the same time, with a device that uses a smartphone camera to study the user’s sperm motility.

Like Roman, none of these are intended to completely replace doctors. Instead, they are designed to help men take the first step towards greater health awareness. Roman even encourages users to see their doctor by offering discounts when they go in for a checkup and send in their results. Discounts apply to subsequent visits or prescriptions, which can be delivered monthly or quarterly. The company will even schedule blood tests and review your results for free, though the third-party screenings may cost you depending on your insurance coverage.

Trak’s home sperm test kit.

Representatives for both Roman and Trak described the sense of shame that can plague men dealing with issues related to fertility and sex as one of the reasons they created their products. “It’s so often associated with how ‘masculine’ you are,” Reitano said of erectile dysfunction. According to him, a large proportion of men with ED are too embarrassed to seek treatment. In some cases, he said, they get prescriptions from their doctor and go to the pharmacy but stop getting their medication.

Hiding behind a screen, which has enabled trolls and online bullies all over the internet, can also make it easier for these men to seek help. But they must do so carefully. According to the World Health Organization, more than 50 percent of medicines sold online are counterfeit, another pitfall for those seeking discreet treatments.

Of course, not all men find it difficult to talk to their doctor about such issues. But men are less likely than women to see a doctor for preventive care. According to the 2014 CDC findings, men are half as likely as women to see a doctor over a two-year period.

It is this disparity that underlies Roman’s decision to focus on men’s health for the time being. Not only does the company want to make it easier for men who have erectile dysfunction to seek treatment, but it also wants to encourage men to be more proactive about their health care and form long-term relationships with medical providers. Women’s health startups also exist, but for us, seeking help online is a convenience rather than an avoidance mechanism.

With reports indicating that Amazon may be getting into the online pharmacy business, more questions arise. What about security? How safe is your information if these websites are breached? Roman is HIPAA compliant and Reitano said the company takes its users’ data seriously. I don’t know how they’re going to do that — determined hackers will find a way to get what they want. But we’ve already given up so much personal information for one-click shopping and easy logins that the value of convenience and pride might be worth the risk. For men suffering from these conditions privately, it can be a small price to pay.

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Men’s health technology is creating shameless ways to get treatment

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