Pilot are the online doctors helping men get better medical advice

It takes about ten minutes, six clicks and $20 to complete my online consult. The algorithm asks me all the usual questions – What seems to be the problem, any allergies, are you taking other medication, do you use recreational drugs – and then I'm done. 

Twenty-four hours later, a doctor in Byron Bay sends me a prescription that I can pick up at a pharmacy near me. Boom: I've just seen a GP without having to see a GP.

Taking flight

I'm using Pilot, the Aussie telehealth platform that allows men to seek private and discreet help online for tough-to-talk-about health problems. Erectile dysfunction and hair loss are their biggest earners, but men can also explore treatment for acne, sleep problems and mental health issues. 

By now there's a good chance you've heard, or more likely scrolled past, Pilot. The tech startup took flight earlier this year, saturating social feeds with targeted advertising aimed at getting men to use the telehealth service, and it worked. Since launching Pilot has more than 8000 registered patients and completed 20,000 online consults. 

Pilot isn't flying solo either; there's also Mosh, another Aussie platform which describes itself as an "online clinic & wellness hub for hair loss, erectile dysfunction, and sexual wellness." 

Big names behind the screen

Both boast powerful tech backers; Canva and Atlassian have tipped funding towards Pilot, while Tinder founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen pumped a million-dollar investment into Mosh. 

Investment interest is hardly surprising, the telehealth market is currently worth $30B globally, with that figure set to double by 2021, according to Statista

But only recently have companies realised that the obvious benefits – convenience and discretion - make it the ideal service for the demographic most reluctant to see a doctor – young men. 

As it stands, Aussie men are significantly less likely to seek treatment from a GP than Australian women. Statistics show that males aged between 15 and 44 visit their Doctor 44 per cent less often than women. Not exactly the picture of good health. 

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Medically speaking

Having clicked my way to a prescription in a few minutes, it's easy to see the appeal. No waiting rooms, no awkward chat, no faded magazines to flick through. 

But for those in the medical community, there are concerns about the targeted push for male telehealth.

"From a GP perspective it fragments care, you might be started on a certain medication online but then see a real-life GP for something else," says Dr Brad McKay, a GP specialising in sexual health. 

"And they may not be aware of what you're taking, and everything becomes disjointed." 

Then there is the larger issue of misdiagnosis.

One wrong click

"If someone is developing erectile dysfunction, they go online click a few options and Viagra arrives in the mail," explains Dr McKay.

"But this might miss the cause – is it psychological, is the first sign of getting heart disease because of blocked arteries?" 

"The benefit of a face-to-face consult is that while you're here and we're talking about your ED, we would check your blood pressure and do routine screening tests to make sure nothing is overlooked." 

Keep that appointment

For Pilot co-founder Tim Doyle, the service doesn't look to replace the standard doctor-patient consult.

"The best version of seeing a doctor is to spend half an hour in a clinic getting a full check-up, we don't deny that," Doyle says.

"But that's not how young men interact with the medical system; they're going untreated or leaving it to the last minute and then Googling the nearest bulk billing clinic." 

According to Doyle, Pilot is a stop-gap designed to offer help where it can, most notably with the tricky topics around sex and mental health, and point in the right direction when it can't. 

"What is important for Pilot and Mosh is to send the patient for a face-to-face GP consult at the first indication we can't or shouldn't treat online," he explains.

Paying the price

You can't put a price on good health, but you can put a price on making it convenient. 

There's a reason startups like Pilot and Mosh have become cash magnets for angel investors; profit potential.

"The $20 cost of the consult gets passed onto the GP, but they pay us a small referral fee for each patient," says Doyle.

"We work with independent pharmacies who provide prescriptions; they also pay us a fee to be on the platform." 

Minor costs

This means no generics prescriptions from low-cost chemists. But for many men who have suffered the perceived shame of ED or hair loss, a consult fee and more-expensive-than-usual prescription are a small price to pay.

"I'm happy to fork out the money to save myself the stuff around with the GP, going to the pharmacy, as well as the embarrassment factor," says Peter*, 28, who uses Pilot to treat his ED.

"The prescription is done overnight, the product is delivered to your home in plain packaging, and the repeats are filled automatically, that's all worth the extra cost for me." 

Dollars for diagnosis

But what exactly is the dollar difference? 

Peter was prescribed twelve Sildenafil (generic Viagra) 50mg tablets at the cost of $69, so $5.75 a pill, plus the $20 consult fee whereas the price of seeing a GP and obtaining a prescription is far lower.

"You could see a bulk billing GP, and you wouldn't be out of pocket for the consult, then you could get the same prescription for $32.97 from Chemist Warehouse, taking your cost down to $2.74 a pill," says Dr McKay.

"You are paying top dollar for treatment, but I do appreciate the convenience, and if a patient wants to wear that cost, it's their prerogative." 

"We will never be Chemist Warehouse in terms of pricing," admits Doyle.

"Because that's not how the money is made, we make our money on convenience and discretion." 

What's the prognosis

While young men continue to avoid the Doctor, services like Pilot and Mosh will flourish.

"We need to encourage young men to visit the doctor, as a GP, I feel like I'm failing if patients don't feel comfortable coming to see me," says Dr McKay. 

Ultimately, both traditional GP's and telehealth platforms are trying to solve the same problem with different solutions. 

"The holy grail for us is building a place where men feel comfortable to seek help and to do it responsibly," echoes Doyle.