Floridians hoping to benefit from the lawful, medicinal use of marijuana still face hurdles accessing the treatment, from the time and cost of seeing a doctor to a shortage of providers, especially in remote communities. That’s why a House bill that allows doctors to use telehealth to renew a patient’s marijuana approval promises to bring a rare, bipartisan achievement to Tallahassee. Why not harness the convenience of technology to wring costs from the system, level the playing field and improve access to care?
Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that broadly authorized medical marijuana, becoming the 26th state to legalize marijuana for either medical or recreational use. As of last month, more than 2,500 doctors had undergone training that qualified them to order medical marijuana, while nearly 800,000 patients have been certified for the treatment. State law allows its use to treat a range of debilitating medical conditions, from cancer and glaucoma to multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress.
Florida law requires that a doctor conduct a physical examination of a patient “while physically present in the same room as the patient” before ordering marijuana. While HB 387 would not change that requirement for an initial examination, it would allow doctors to renew patients for medical marijuana by conducting an exam through telehealth.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, said the change would “treat this (medical marijuana) like any other medicine.” Barry Gordon, a Venice-based physician who specializes in medical marijuana care, told a House panel last week that using telehealth to recertify patients would benefit some of the sickest and weakest Floridians. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate.
The bill is a measured approach that sensibly uses available technology for the public good. State law already requires health care providers to adhere to the same standard of care for telehealth as is required for in-person treatment. It’s also essential to remember that telehealth is not a type of health care service, but rather a mechanism for delivering it. And telehealth is perfectly suited for follow-up visits. Telehealth connects doctors and patients no matter where they are. It can provide timelier interactions between providers and patients while reducing travel costs, lost wages and other expenses associated with making in-person appointments. The efficiencies also benefit providers and help curb the spiraling costs of health care.
Legislators should support a measure that’s as beneficial to the health care industry as it is to consumers. And the legislation provides a welcome opportunity for bipartisan cooperation.
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