By Lyneisha Watson
Featured Image: Rawpixel
Cannabis is a plant that encourages intimacy. Though she comes in all shapes and sizes, at her core cannabis is a healer. She saturates the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and encourages our muscles, our minds and our bodies to relax. Yet, in a world so consumed by technology, how does cannabis fit in?
Technology is playing an interesting part in the cannabis industry. Usually, when we think of technology and cannabis, we tend to think of point-of-sale systems and cool dabbing rigs. But, telemedicine companies like PrestoDoctor and HelloMD are merging the world of technology with cannabis to create space for patients to have access to doctors knowledgeable about cannabis.
“[Telemedicine] is a huge benefit to healthcare,” says Nique Pichette, a two-time breast cancer survivor, registered nurse, and CEO of Holistic 2 Healing, a service that provides consultations regarding the ECS and cannabis therapeutics.
Pichette’s was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 43.
“I had a lump that was in my left breast for years. It moved around so people who I had talked to felt it was more like a cyst or fatty tumor because ‘if it was cancer it wouldn’t move,'” shares Pichette.
“Over the years the lump started to change in shape and density and that is when I showed it to a nurse that I was working with in Connecticut,” she continues, “She immediately made me get it checked out, although I didn’t even have a doctor. She connected me with her family doctor, and I scheduled an appointment to be seen. That was the first day in which my life changed forever.”
Soon after a suspicious mammogram and a needle biopsy, Pichette was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was numb, and it was surreal,” she said.
Her diagnosis took a toll on her mentally because it affected so many areas of her life instantly. The traditional breast cancer treatment that she received didn’t give her the mental, emotional, and spiritual healing that she needed to help her cope with her breast cancer. She began using cannabis after her second breast cancer diagnosis.
“Sixteen weeks of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments was my new plan of care. I became so nauseous and constipated from chemotherapy,” Pichette adds, “I was allergic to all the anti-emetics for my nausea. After much deliberation, my journey with cannabis began.”
At the time of her diagnosis, cannabis was only decriminalized in Connecticut. Medical cannabis wouldn’t be legalized in the state until 2012. When it did become a medical option, Pichette was still afraid. As the director of nursing operations at a small assisted living facility, she feared she could lose her nursing license everyday.
Until recently, there weren’t any treatment plans that offered the privacy, and the peace of mind that telemedicine offers to some patients. Also, many medical marijuana patients complain about some doctors’ lack of knowledge about cannabis, and their prejudice against the plant. But there has been a boom in telemedicine in the last five years, which helps connect more patients with what Pichette calls “cannabis doctors,” or doctors who are educated about the plant.
When Pichette was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, telemedicine didn’t exist in the cannabis space—so pulling together a team of “cannabis-doctors-on-the-go” was impossible. Now that we live in a world where everything is digitized it is much easier for Pichette and many other medical patients to connect with cannabis doctors in a way that is 100% on their terms. The one-on-one consultation creates an open environment for patients to share without the fear of being judged.
According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), “76% of U.S. hospitals connect with patients and consulting practitioners at a distance through the use of video and other technology.”
Telehealth helps increase health care value, access and affordability, reports the AHA. “Virtual care technology saves patients time and money, reduces patient transfers, emergency department and urgent care center visits, and delivers savings to payers,” the association adds. “In addition, telehealth helps address physician burnout by reducing clinicians’ drive times and allowing more time for patients.”
With six-in-ten (62%) of Americans in favor of cannabis legalization, there may be a new wave of telemedicine companies popping up in the next few years as the technology appeals to patients searching for a more comfortable and convenient solution over traditional doctor’s offices.
“Traditional medicine is lacking that personal connection and listening that a patient sometimes needs,” said Pichette.
Telemedicine companies PrestoDoctor and HelloMD are paving the way for patients to get easier access to the cannabis industry.
PrestoDoctor, a San Francisco based start-up, helps people get medical marijuana cards in California, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma and Missouri. Their platform gives patients the opportunity to talk to cannabis doctors in a 100% secure chat.
Co-founder Robert Tankson III says that PrestoDoctor prides itself on the comfort their patients receive when they attend a session—a trait that patients like Pichette wish traditional medical professionals would take more seriously.
“I think telemedicine answers a lot of questions. Though the actual appointment is digital, there is still an actual face-to-face interaction,” says Tankson. “Most people actually say that they’re making more eye contact and communicating more openly through telemedicine, and it’s because […] they’re in their own space.”
“Wherever you’re comfortable doing it is where you’re going to have that appointment. Because of that, you’re not worried about people hearing you and you’re having a very open conversation,” he adds. “People have said that the PrestoDoctor appointment is one of the more open and honest conversations that they’ve had with a doctor. They say they feel open and that they don’t feel judged. Telemedicine really opens up the communication between patients and their healthcare providers.”
When visiting sites like HelloMD, patients will experience the openness that the platform offers. There are forums, blog posts, and product reviews that allow patients to learn and interact with the medical cannabis community in a new way.
In an interview with Modern Healthcare, HelloMD co-founder Mark Hadfield says that their service anticipates the demand for trusted information and doctors. He notes that the way medical cannabis patients are treated isn’t efficient, which is why telemedicine services are so necessary.
HelloMD recently entered into a partnership with Emerald Health Therapeutics to help give patients more access to trusted cannabis information. Emerald has integrated HelloMD’s technology into their own program to help create a better on-boarding experience for their patients.
“Telemedicine can provide a one-[on]-one interview with a provider and patient in which the patient could be actively involved in their personal treatment team,” says Pinchette. “I think telehealth has great potential for so many services and I have been actively working on adding this component to the Path to Health program at my office, Holistic 2 Healing, which will be opening the first of the year.”
Pichette, who is also a founding member of the Cannabis Nurses Network, is currently involved in a new breast cancer study with the University of California, San Diego which looks at how technology like Zoom and FitBits impacts the body image and quality of life in young breast cancer survivors.