By Denise Deveau, Postmedia Content Works, April 28, 2020
Telemedicine has become a vital tool as a result of COVID-19, and as a growing number of Canadians look for clinical support in managing through this difficult time, medical cannabis is no exception.
Unlike recreational cannabis, medical cannabis distribution is regulated by the federal government and deemed essential for the 370,000 patients who rely on it as medicine. As such, specialty clinics have pivoted to continue to offer guidance in terms of self-assessment, available options, dosages, and even insurance coverage, special pricing programs, and tax deductions.
“Medical cannabis is no different from other drug treatments that require monitoring and dose optimization,” says Carole Chan, a pharmacist and president of Harvest Medicine, a leader in providing clinical services. “Our team of professionals really know the medical cannabis landscape inside and out. They’re able to make assessments, offer recommendations on formats and dosages, discuss contraindications, and help develop a treatment plan based on a patient’s individual needs.”
As a trusted leading network of medical cannabis clinics, Harvest Medicine has logged over 100,000 patient visits since 2017 across its four locations in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax and Moncton.
When clinics were recently closed in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Harvest Medicine was able to quickly adapt its full range of support services to a telemedicine model through its free HMED Connect platform. This completely secure, fully integrated system has been in use for more than a year, servicing 3,000 patients to date.
To handle increased demand, Harvest Medicine trained its team on the platform, including doctors, nurse practitioners, patient educators and international medical graduates.
Ongoing access to educators and physicians for medical cannabis patients is critical during these challenging times, says Dr. Rahim Damji, a family practitioner in Calgary who works with Harvest Medicine. “A majority of patients are in the risk factor age group and are isolating themselves because of their fear of contracting an illness that can be devastating for them,” he says. “Knowing they can access us and treat chronic issues from home is important to them.”
COVID-19 has increased the workload for Jennifer Searle, a Harvest Medicine nurse practitioner based in Kingston. She reports that her virtual consultations have increased from about 15 to two dozen patients a day on average. “Stress levels have increased so much, patients need the added support,” she says. “People are overwhelmed as they try to get a handle on the way everyday life is right now.”
Whenever I connect with a patient, the general response is one of gratitude, appreciation and relief.Dr. Rahim Damji
Initial assessments take 30 minutes, during which intake clinicians review a patient’s health history, medical profile, reasons for considering medical cannabis and their expectations, to determine if it’s an appropriate fit. A meeting with the patient educator follows to help navigate product options, and a Harvest Medicine team member then schedules follow-up sessions at prescribed intervals.
“It’s not like taking a Tylenol for a headache,” Searle says. “We provide guidance on what should be used based on the conditions they want to treat. Each patient needs to be educated on the process, because what works for one may not for their neighbour.”