As both a patient and healthcare professional, I think one of the most important pieces to quality care is a patient’s informed choice. All of our personal needs and preferences are different, so the more informed we are about our options, the better healthcare decisions we can make. This is especially important when it comes to navigating a highly individualized treatment approach like medical cannabis. Partnering with a quality cannabis physician helps patients to maximize their medical cannabis experience.
Unfortunately, over the last year and half volunteering in patient support groups and seeing patients at Florida Medical Cannabis Clinic , I’ve encountered countless people who were misled by inexperienced doctors or commercial clinics, overpaid for services, or received subpar care. Understanding what is law, what is normal practice, and what is good medicine, can help you to choose a physician based off of your personal needs and avoid a negative experience or wasted money.
Below I’ve outlined some of the most important things to know and understand about the Florida program and the role of your cannabis physician. Every patient has to weigh which of these are most important to them and choose their physician based on their personal needs. Knowing what’s important and what to ask will help to avoid unexpected surprises down the line.
Certification Laws & Visit Frequency
The law gives physicians discretion on how long they certify and provide medication orders for their patients. Some certification clinics require visits every 210 days, the maximum amount of time between visits allowed under the law. Others require their patients be seen more frequently.
So which is most appropriate? It depends.
Sometimes being seen more frequently is quality medicine, other times it’s a way for physicians to make more money. Sometimes it’s just because a physician is new and doesn’t quite have a handle on how cannabis all works. How, as a patient, do you differentiate?
It’s common practice for quality Florida cannabis physicians to require a follow up visit within 1-4 months of your initial appointment. This is a standard of care for any medicine. It allows them to monitor your condition and help you to adjust your cannabis routine to find the best products for your needs. After this initial check in, most compassionate physicians require their patients be seen once every 6-7 months unless otherwise medically necessary, consistent with the max duration allowed under the law. If a physician requires you to be seen every 30, 45, or 90 days regardless of your medical status it’s usually a red flag to keep looking or ask some further questions.
Cannabis Knowledge & Medical Understanding
This should go without saying, but it’s important that your cannabis physician understands how cannabis works, how the Florida program functions, the products available, and how they can be harnessed to achieve the best results. Many physicians add medical cannabis recommendations to their regular practices as an ancillary service. It’s not their area of expertise, so they often lean on dispensaries to provide patients with education and guidance in the day to day aspects of using medical cannabis. Unfortunately, for multiple reasons, that often doesn’t work well for patients.
Some dispensary (MMTC) staff are highly knowledgeable about medical conditions, cannabis, and are great with patients. Others aren’t. Knowledge varies greatly. Poor advice from MMTC staff coupled with a lack of guidance from physicians can lead to negative medication experiences and increased patient costs through the trial and error of inappropriate medications. Private doctors who specialize only in cannabis medicine typically provide a more comprehensive and valuable service. They are able to guide patients into cannabis products that are best suited for their needs instead of leaving patients to rely solely on dispensary advice.
Florida law requires more oversight by cannabis physician’s than most cannabis programs. Somewhat similar to regular prescriptions, doctors control the amounts and delivery methods of cannabis in which you are able to purchase for every order and certification period. It’s important that cannabis physicians have a good understanding of the intricacies of purchasing and using medication or you may not have enough room within your recommendation to meet your needs. If your doctor does not authorize the delivery routes or dosing amounts that you need, you will not be able to purchase those medications unless you transfer to a physician that will work with you.
While there is no set standard, a common reasonable recommendation in Florida is CBD & THC in Oral, Inhalation, and Topical methods at 400mg max dose, each type and method, per day in addition to 2.5 ounces of smokable cannabis every 35 days. Most patients will not use this full recommendation, but it allows for variation in experience, dosing, and products. If you are a cancer patient wishing to follow a RSO or similar protocol it will be important that your doctor is willing to recommend above this. If you are an experienced user with a high tolerance or know you will require high doses it’s extra important to ask about the physicians typical recommendation practices.
There are some red flags to look for when choosing a physician. For example, it is illegal for cannabis to be prescribed by a physician. If your physician’s website uses this type of language - it’s a good sign they don’t have a full understanding of the intricacies of cannabis medicine.
Cheaper Costs Don’t Always Equal Less Expensive
Medical cannabis is a financial investment in yourself. Factoring all the costs over the long term is important to choosing the best certifying physician for your needs. Partnering with a physician and healthcare team who can help you to properly use medical cannabis can potentially save you hundreds of dollars or more over the long term.
I regularly meet with patients who transfer to our clinic after a disappointing experience elsewhere. They often tell me that they considered our clinic initially, but opted for somewhere that was a little bit cheaper upfront. Some were met with hidden fees, undisclosed appointments, and contract costs. Others transfer to us because of limited recommendations and/or lack of guidance and understanding of the program. Many patients are pleasantly surprised at the added value that comes with a knowledgeable cannabis team and how that can save in other ways.
Regardless of which of these factors are the most important to you, I encourage you to do some research, compare websites, read reviews, and ask questions prior to choosing a cannabis physician. Even the most experienced cannabis users are regularly surprised by all the offerings available in the legal market. Building your healthcare team wisely can help reduce overwhelm, save money, and lead to better results.