'Telehealth' Doctor Visits for Medical Marijuana

By Pat Anson, Editor

With medical marijuana legal in 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, millions of Americans can now legally obtain cannabis to treat chronic pain and other health conditions.

But many pain patients are leery about asking their doctors for a medical marijuana card or about visiting a marijuana dispensary in some shady part of town.

Into this void has stepped HelloMD, the first “telehealth” provider to offer live online video consultations with a physician about medical marijuana. For $49 – a fraction of the cost of visiting a doctor in their office -- the company says it will provide a private consultation with a licensed physician via a desktop computer, laptop or mobile device. If the doctor agrees on the need, they will write a medical marijuana recommendation for immediate use.

HelloMD also provides links to trusted marijuana dispensaries and delivery services – meaning the patient never has to leave the comfort of their own home.

“Delivery service is really what they’re interested in,” says Mark Hadfield, CEO and Founder of HelloMD. “The patients that we’re talking about, the elderly, infirm, professionals, moms and dads, are people that are concerned about confidentiality; they don’t want to end up in a state database, they don’t want to be filmed going in and out of a dispensary. Those people were never going to get their (marijuana) cards prior to this service.”

HelloMD began providing medical marijuana consultations in March, but the San Francisco based company has actually been around for two years, at first providing online access for patients interested in reaching neurologists, oncologists and other medical specialists.

“It’s a very hot space. Digital health care is a multi-billion dollar segment growing very, very rapidly. It’s also very competitive. There are at least five or six companies with tens of millions of dollars in funding competing for that space. The latest one is Walgreens,” Hadfield told Pain News Network.

Faced with that kind of competition, HelloMD decided to focus exclusively on medical marijuana.

“There’s obviously a big need. A lot of doctors are leery, uninformed or uncomfortable with cannabis. A lot of people go to their traditional doctors and they’re told they’re just not able to advise them on that,” Hadfield said.

“We think there’s a much bigger demographic that until now has not been involved in cannabis products. So millions of Americans are coming into the industry for the first time and are curious to try those products. And so our goal is to be the resource for those patients, starting off with connecting them with the right medical assistance and keeping them compliant with the law.”

For now, HelloMD can only provide medical marijuana consultations to people in California. It has about a dozen doctors “on call” in the state to meet online with patients. Many of the physicians are retired or semi-retired and work from their own homes.

The company plans to expand into other medical marijuana states later this year and to recruit about 300 doctors nationwide. Doctors must be licensed to practice medicine in the state where their patient is located.

About 150 patients a week are currently getting consultations on HelloMD.

"We were quite surprised to find that the majority of folks coming through our service were not recreational users at all.  Instead we met retirees, veterans, and working professionals looking for alternative medicinal treatments to a wide variety of conditions spanning chronic pain through everyday anxiety and stress,” says Perry Solomon, MD, Chief Medical Officer at HelloMD.

“All of them had heard about marijuana as an alternative but found their general practitioner lacking the knowledge to offer good advice. They didn't know where to go for more information on medical marijuana, who to talk with, or how to go about becoming a legal patient. Many had difficulty leaving their homes while others were afraid to venture into the parts of town where medical marijuana practitioners were likely to be found."

According to a new report by the National Business Group on Health, telehealth services are saving companies more than $6 billion in healthcare costs.  American Well, Doctor on Demand, MD Live and Teladoc offer online consultations with a physician for about $40 to $50.