There are approximately 200 telemedicine platform networks in the U.S. that provide connectivity to over 3,000 sites, according to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA). However, those numbers could probably double if recent telemedicine trends in relation to the medical marijuana industry continue.
California’s Telehealth Advancement Act was signed into law in 2011, but the effects it’s having on the industry are beginning to show more vividly today. Mark Hadfield is the CEO and founder of HelloMD, a telehealth provider in San Francisco, and has seen first-hand how this piece of legislation is changing the landscape for telehealth technologies, according to the Fresno news site, Thebusinessjournal.com.
“When we started offering online medical marijuana doctor consultations, we expected the majority of our customers to be existing recreational users seeking to become legal,” Hadfield said. “These new patients couldn’t be further from the typical stoner stereotype.”
Essentially, the law allows for the prescription of marijuana for medicinal use without ever leaving the comfort of your own home. You make an appointment with your telemedicine doctors via telemedicine video conferencing and they can have the cannabis delivered right to your home.
Younger adults (particularly Millennials) have been at the forefront of many telemedicine trends, but that’s not the case in this scenario. Doctor Perry Solomon is the chief medical officer at HelloMD. In a press release published by PRNewswire.com, he described the new patients Hadfield referenced include: middle-aged women, military veterans, professionals, and retirees.
“[They’re people] looking for alternative medicinal treatments to a wide variety of conditions spanning chronic pain through everyday anxiety and stress,” Solomon said. “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.”
Another factor in people finding their services was out of fear and necessity. Many of the new patients were those that had difficulty leaving their homes, or were nervous about the potential dangers inherent in exploring the part of town marijuana dispensaries might be located.
The telehealth industry is rapidly growing. The market is projected to increase from $240 million in 2013, to $1.9 billion in 2018. That number will likely only increase if the telemedicine trends in the medical marijuana industry continue to expand.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect to consider down the line is a potential conflict with insurance companies. Currently, 22 states have laws requiring telehealth visits be reimbursed at the same rate as traditional ones. It’s unclear what will happen if a person’s insurance provider operates outside of these states and refuses to do so on grounds of local legality.