Telehealth Provides Critical Access for Medical Marijuana Patients

For patients around the country using marijuana as a treatment modality
for medical problems, Telehealth is one of the most pivotal factors in
that care. In addition to removing physical barriers that stand between
patients and access to medical marijuana (distance, rural locations,
very few clinics, etc.), I believe that Telehealth medicine also allows
patients to take advantage of life-changing medical marijuana support
without the stigma associated with walking into a physical marijuana
clinic, or driving to sometimes seedy area of town to find a doctor to
perform a cannabis evaluation. Unfortunately, Telehealth care isn’t easy
for patients to access in all parts of the country, and it’s consumers
who are paying the price.

What Is Telehealth?

Telehealth is a broad term that
encompasses a large selection of services and technologies. Through
means such as online meeting platforms and other virtual health tactics,
Telehealth delivers health, medical and educational services to
consumers around the country. In addition to use by medical marijuana
providers like myself, Telehealth medicine is also used in counseling,
home health, chronic disease management and even dentistry.

Telehealth is a hot topic in many states right now. As of the end of
2015, all but eight
states

proposed bills related to Telehealth access and medicine. Every state
except Rhode Island currently offers some form of Medicaid coverage for
telemedicine. Additionally, the majority of states reimburse patients
for live video visits, nine states (including California, Alaska, and
Arizona) reimburse patients for forward services, and 17 reimburse
patients for remote monitoring services. Thirty-two states (and the
District of Columbia) require telehealth services to be paid by
insurance companies on the same level as in-person visits.

The Growth of Telehealth

While I’m happy to report that telehealth services are on the rise, only
one percent of the U.S. population currently has access to a telehealth
provider due to low doctor registration numbers and limited cannabis
telehealth laws across the country. Some telehealth companies are
reporting annual revenues of upwards of $77
million

in 2015, which indicates a 77 percent increase from 2014. Telehealth
companies often work with employers, health care providers and health
plans to provide quality care to consumers everywhere.

Cannabis Laws and Telehealth Conflicts

Although access to medical marijuana is one of the most direct purposes
of telehealth medicine, it’s still hotly disputed around the country.
While 23 states, as well as the District of Columbia, currently have
laws that make cannabis legal in some form, every state except for
California and Nevada now disallow telehealth access to medical
marijuana. In California, the telehealth laws support patient access to
medical marijuana as long as the "Standard of
Care
"
is maintained. The Standard of Care means that medical marijuana
providers must use prudence and caution when consulting with, and
prescribing treatment for, their patients.

How Telehealth can Improve Access to Medical Marijuana

In addition to the fact that telehealth makes accessing medical
marijuana easier for patients who live in rural or remote locations,
telehealth medicine also removes many of the less obvious barriers to
care, such as access to evaluations and the availability of certified
doctors.

As it stands now, many patients are unable to obtain evaluations easily
in their hometowns or states or have a difficult time accessing
certified doctors. In addition to there being a shortage of certified
doctors across the country, many traditional doctors are reflexively
dismissive of marijuana because they did not study cannabis therapy in
med school and have had no real exposure to it since then. Finally, some
very ill patients also worry that informing their doctors about their
desire to try medical marijuana as a treatment modality will result in
losing access to potentially life-saving medical trials.

While the medical benefits of medical marijuana are widespread and
well-studied, many states haven’t warmed up to the idea of using
cannabis as a standard treatment modality. Because of this, it’s my
belief that telehealth medicine is one of the most direct and efficient
ways for needy patients to access quality medical marijuana providers
without all of the red tape.

The Case for Telehealth Medicine

Telehealth is an important innovation that has the potential to bring
quality healthcare to underserved populations. All around the country,
the conversation about telehealth is becoming a hot-button topic and
lawmakers and consumers alike are beginning to realize how crucial this
new care modality is. Despite the fact that cannabis telehealth laws are
still restricted in many states, the telehealth industry is
growing

year-over-year, and patients in places that offer telehealth access are
benefiting.

While very few states allow telehealth access to medical marijuana, the
states that do are serving their residents better than many other places
in the country. Telehealth care is an efficient way for patients to
access the benefits of medical cannabis without the stigma, difficulty,
danger, or stress of finding an in-person provider.

Unfortunately, many citizens still don’t currently have access to
telehealth medical marijuana care. In light of this, I propose that
lawmakers work to bring cannabis laws and telehealth laws into
alignment, as they have done in California. While the concept of
telehealth cannabis care is new for many states, medical marijuana
providers
can serve their patients
effectively, efficiently and safely so long as the Standard of Care is
maintained. When other states across the nation begin to realize the
importance of eliminating the conflict between telehealth and cannabis
laws, I believe that patient access to quality care will improve by
leaps and bounds.

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