Move over, cheesy Cialis bathtubs. There’s a sleek new startup targeting men with erectile dysfunction.
A first of its kind, Roman is an app that will screen you for ED, let you talk one-on-one with doctors, and even get prescriptions delivered to your door — all without ever leaving your house. The service, whose wares are packaged in dignified red and black branding, is aiming to take the shame out of the condition for a new generation.
While an app that dispenses Viagra sounds like something out of an episode of Silicon Valley, in a refreshing turn of events, Roman is not being pitched as a cynical ploy to disrupt your dick. Instead, it’s a personal mission of the company’s CEO, Zachariah Reitano, an earnest software developer who has struggled with erectile dysfunction since he was a teenager.
He explained his motivation recently to Mashable, “Our philosophy is basically if we reduce the barriers to men receiving treatment at the earliest possible sign of trouble, then we can start a dialogue with a physician. We can build a bond with them, and then in short order we can educate them and treat them for other conditions that end up being the root cause of ED.”
So how does this actually work? It’s a web app that starts by asking you questions about your general health and lifestyle and then offers tailored follow-up questions, depending on how you answer. (You also have to verify your identity by taking a photo providing ID.)
You’ll be required to provide a recent blood pressure reading — and if you haven’t had one in the past six months it’ll direct you to get one before you proceed. A physician reviews your info, and if you’re a candidate for drugs, you’ll be issued a prescription and can order the medicine right in the app.
It will be delivered right to your door in discreet packaging — in something that looks more like an iPhone box than something from Walgreens. You can also sign up for automatic refills, and if you have questions, you can message or video chat with one of the doctors at any time.
If it’s determined that something more serious might be going on, you’re referred to a local clinic for an in-person check-up. For the time being, Roman is only available in New York, California, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
While telemedicine isn’t right for addressing all health conditions, in this case, it’s actually a reasonably safe way of starting the discussion, says Dr. Michael Eisenberg, Director of Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery and Stanford University. He told Mashable, “Any time you can reduce friction or decrease the barriers to care, I think that’s a good thing.”
And that’s Roman’s ultimate goal: to break down the barriers young men face when it comes to getting treatment for erectile dysfunction. While years of innuendo-laden Cialis and Viagra ads have reduced much of the stigma around the condition for older men, their younger counterparts haven’t necessarily had the same awakening.
Dr. Eisenberg stressed that treatment is important on a number of levels, “Erectile dysfunction certainly is a quality of life issue, and it can do a lot for relationship satisfaction and overall life satisfaction, but it also can be a biomarker. I think making men more aware of their health and lifestyle factors that may play a role is good as well.”
It’s something more than half of all men struggle with — and it’s not just confined to retirees. In fact, 26 percent of adult men under the age of 40 have dealt with ED, but they’re not always willing to talk about it, even with a doctor.
As Reitano explained, “It’s often one of the earliest symptoms of far more serious underlying conditions. It’s highly undertreated. Only about 18 to 30 percent of men who experience the issue get treated for it, because of the stigma.”
Reitano’s first experience with ED occurred when he was a teenager, and it turned out to be one of the first signs that he was suffering from serious heart problems. He was lucky in that his dad was a physician specializing in sexual health. So he was able to talk openly with him about what was happening and his father recognized it as a signal that something more critical was up.
But Reitano recognized that not all young men had that kind of access or the education to speak up when something wasn’t quite right in the bedroom. So, years later, when he and his partners — CPO Saman Rahmanian and CRO Rob Schutz — found themselves looking for a startup idea in the men’s health space, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Reitano explained, “It’s something that men care about enough in the present enough to research, enough to Google. Whereas if we just started with something like hypertension or cholesterol, it’s often not something that someone wakes up with and affects their day to day life, even though it’s incredibly important.”
While this could look on the surface like simply a place to get a free-flowing supply of recreational Viagra, that’s not the intended reality. First of all, if you’re not having any issues with maintaining an erection, drugs like Cialis and Viagra aren’t really going to do much to enhance your sexual experience.
As Reitano explained, many of the people who claim to be doing these drug “for fun” are actually using them to treat some level of dysfunction. And those who are too embarrassed to seek out legitimate treatment for their condition are currently turning to the internet to buy meds.
That’s a real problem because about 80 percent of the Viagra bought online is actually counterfeit and is often contaminated by things you definitely shouldn’t be swallowing — like paint.
So a service like Roman, where patients can be monitored by a physician and receive legal versions of these drugs, could do a lot to boost access to people who have otherwise been totally out of the health care system.
Still, it’s certainly not a perfect fit for everyone — and it does come at a cost. Roman is not integrated at all with insurance, meaning everything is out of pocket. The prices, however, are fairly reasonable. You pay just $15 for your online consultation. (Though if you’re not deemed a good candidate for telemedical treatment, that’s refunded). Prescriptions, depending on the drug and the dosage, will run you anywhere from $2 to $63 a pill.
Of course, Roman is not aiming to replace a doctor entirely, and there may be plenty of cases in which it’s either more cost effective or medically more sound to go through an IRL physician.
But it’s a service that could really gain traction as a complementary force to get men talking about their health and be a powerful point of access for men who might otherwise be too shy or ashamed to ask for help.