As the acceptance and use of medical marijuana continue to grow, innovative solutions are emerging to address the challenges of accessibility to cannabis care. One such breakthrough in Florida is integrating telehealth services into the medical marijuana program after a LONG WAIT by patients. During the COVID epidemic, telehealth temporarily revolutionized how patients in the Sunshine State could access medical marijuana recertifications, offering greater convenience, safety, and efficiency. Once signed by the Governor, this temporary allowance will now be permanent for established recertifications on July 1st. This article will explore the benefits and implications of Florida’s medical marijuana telehealth system.
One of the significant advantages of incorporating telehealth into Florida’s medical marijuana program is the increased accessibility it provides to patients. Traditionally, patients seeking medical marijuana had to visit a qualified physician’s office in person every 210 days to keep their orders active. This can be inconvenient, time-consuming, and costly, especially for those living in remote areas. Telehealth eliminates these recertification barriers by enabling patients to connect with their certifying doctor remotely from the comfort of their homes.
On May 4, 2023, the Florida Legislature passed the long-awaited bill HB 387 which expands the use of telehealth for medical marijuana recertifications. Once signed by Florida Governor DeSantis, the new law will become effective July 1, 2023. Allowing patients and providers to use telehealth for medical marijuana recertifications was allowed in Florida temporarily under emergency rules put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. HB 387 makes the now-expired temporary policy permanent. This bill will allow patients to renew their medical marijuana certification again by visiting their physician via telehealth.
Through secure video conferencing platforms or VOIP calls, patients can consult with their certifying physician who can perform their renewal and recertify their 7-month orders. This allows individuals with busy schedules, or those with limited mobility, to access the same level of care as they would by renewing physically at the office. The convenience of telehealth also benefits individuals who may have work or family commitments that make in-person visits challenging. By removing geographical and logistical hurdles, Florida’s medical marijuana telehealth program will ensure equitable access to treatment as it currently does for numerous other forms of healthcare.
“On June 26th 2023 the Bill was signed and presented to the Governor who approved the Bill. The new rules allowing Telehealth Recertifications for established patients will go into effect on July 1st, 2023″
Safety and Privacy
In addition to improving accessibility, telehealth for medical marijuana consultations enhances patient safety and privacy. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of minimizing in-person contact to reduce the risk of viral transmission. Telehealth offers a safe alternative by allowing patients to re-consult with healthcare professionals without physical proximity.
Telehealth platforms ensure that sensitive patient information remains confidential by conducting consultations through encrypted video or voice calls. This heightened level of privacy is particularly crucial for individuals seeking medical marijuana, as some may still face social stigmatization or concerns about their personal information being disclosed. Telehealth provides a discreet avenue for patients to discuss their medical condition and explore treatment options, fostering a more open and trusting doctor-patient relationship.
Efficiency and Cost-Effectiveness
Another significant advantage of doing recertifications in Florida via telehealth is its efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Traditionally, in-person visits to physicians’ offices often involve longer wait times and associated costs such as transportation expenses, missed work, and childcare. With telehealth, patients can schedule appointments more conveniently and eliminate travel-related costs and inconveniences.
Challenges and Future Considerations
While Florida’s medical marijuana telehealth system offers numerous benefits, there are also challenges and considerations to address. One significant consideration is that the recertifications require that the physician has physically seen and certified the patient previously. The downside to this is that patients have very few options if they want to change physicians and also recertify with telehealth. Per HB 387, patients would need to physically see a certifying physician again to transfer care. After that first in-person exam, however, the new law expressly allows the physician to conduct renewal consultations with the patients remotely using telehealth.
Furthermore, it is essential to continuously evaluate and update the telehealth infrastructure to keep up with technological advancements and emerging best practices. Ongoing training for healthcare professionals on telehealth protocols, data security, and patient privacy is vital to ensure safe and effective telemedicine practices.
Florida’s integration of telehealth services into its medical marijuana program will transform the landscape of cannabis care in the state. By increasing accessibility, ensuring patient safety and privacy, and enhancing efficiency, telehealth will make it easier for patients to obtain medical marijuana retreatment. However, it will be essential to balance the appointment’s convenience with maintaining the highest quality care, as marijuana is not only a plant but “medicine.”