- Costs are exploding for all kinds of drugs, including skin medications.
- Dermatologist Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali and his colleagues kept hearing from patients about these kinds of issues.
- “I have drugs that I used to prescribe to patients that were $US4. And now they’re $US800 to $US2,000. The same drug,” he said.
- So Bhanusali started his own company, Skin Medicinals, selling common acne, rosacea and scar medications for just $US24 to $US60.
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A year or two ago, dermatologist Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali had an experience that he can’t forget.
He had prescribed a patient an anti-fungal cream, a common medication for conditions like athlete’s foot and ringworm.
She reported back that the treatment had worked, but still seemed unhappy. When Bhanusali pushed further, he found out why: A drug that should have been $US6 or $US7 had instead cost her $US1,200.
In this case, the patient used her drug. But increasingly patients aren’t taking their drugs because they can’t afford them. That can let their already-severe skin conditions worsen, he said.
“I have drugs that I used to prescribe to patients that were $US4. And now they’re $US800 to $US2,000. The same drug,” he said. “It’s getting unsustainable.”
Prices for skin drugs have also surged. One study found that 19 common brand-name dermatologic medications had an average price increase of 401% over six years, with generic drugs also seeing large price increases.
Last year, at the prodding of fellow dermatologists whose patients were having the same price problems, Bhanusali founded a new online platform called Skin Medicinals, selling products for common conditions like acne, rosacea and scars for just $US24 to $US60.
For instance, corticosteroids creams used for skin itching and redness typically have retail prices of between $US75 and $US400, according to GoodRx, a price comparison website for prescriptions. They’re available on Skin Medicinals for $US35.
Those prices are possible because the products are cheaper generics, mixed specially for the platform by compounding pharmacies in Florida and California. Skin Medicinals doesn’t take insurance, so patients pay cash and then have the drugs shipped to their homes.
Since Skin Medicinals launched in August, more than 15,600 patients across the country have used it, and more than 1,100 doctors have signed up.
Affordable products for rosacea, precancers and more
In the great American drug pricing debate, doctors have remained mostly on the sidelines.
Though they write prescriptions, most don’t know what drugs will cost their patient. That is, unless they hear back about issues.
Bhanusali, who just started his own practice in New York City and is also an instructor at Mount Sinai Health System, wants to change that.
The 34-year-old physician has had an entrepreneurial bent ever since his days as a medical resident, launching projects like a platform to compare prices between different local pharmacies and one for patients to participate in new drug research virtually, from their homes.
Skin Medicinals came out of that, and exploits a capability dermatologists have long had, to mix up their own custom products like moisturizers and cleansers for patients.
Bhanusali himself learned how to do it in medical school. Recently, the dermatologist even helped formulate a new Amazon-exclusive skin-care line.
Dr. Susan Bard, a practicing dermatologist in Manhattan, learned about Skin Medicinals by word of mouth about four months ago.
Since then, she’s prescribed treatments to at least 100 patients through the platform. The new platform has been especially helpful for those with rosacea and who struggle with skin discoloration after, say, a rash, she says.
It’s also provided affordable products to treat precancerous growths, which can in rare cases turn into cancer. Some patients may have hundreds of these “precancers,” but Bard said she’s heard of the drugs costing as much as $US1,000.
“These are conditions that must be treated,” Bard told Business Insider. She understands why health insurers don’t want to pay for overly expensive products, “but who gets left holding the bag? Me and my patient.”
Hopes of sparking a ‘revolution’ about drug prices among doctors
Crucially, though, Skin Medicinals can only sell generic medications, which no longer have patent protection.
To get a prescription through it, one’s doctor must first sign up, as Bard did. Once they do so, a patient can create an online account and order their medication. The drug is then shipped to their house.
Bhanusali built the platform with support from other dermatologists. He used his own money to do it and took no funds from investors. Any profits will go to nonprofits or to building new features for the Skin Medicinals site, including potentially allowing patients to get virtual dermatology visits, he told Business Insider.
But he hopes the implications will go far beyond dermatology, calling it a “revolution” that he hopes will empower other types of doctors to do something about high drug prices, too.
“We hope other fields can join us,” he said.
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