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Perry Solomon, MD is CMO of HelloMD, a San Francisco-based company that recently pivoted from offering general telemedicine services to focusing solely on digital health services for the medical marijuana industry.
What factors contributed to the decision to pivot the company from a more general telemedicine company to one specifically for medical marijuana users?
Telemedicine and digital healthcare generally are a multi-billion dollar industry, and in many ways represent the future of medicine in America. It’s already a crowed market, with thousands of startups and some very well-funded players. Even Walgreens recently got into the game with their telehealth consultations through pharmacy locations. We pivoted from this initial focus – where we were a smaller player – to be the first digital healthcare platform for the cannabis market. We saw a blue ocean opportunity, and we already had the platform that could be applied for a rapid start. The response was immediate and overwhelming. We are now the leading digital healthcare platform for medical marijuana patients, and we continue to innovate in that direction.
How does the new business model work?
Patients buy an annual membership (priced at $49), which includes the doctor’s consultation; online follow up during the year; as well as access to deals, product advice, and other benefits. We ensure they are in compliance with all local laws, and we maintain an online medical history in our HIPAA-compliant database. Many people entering the cannabis market for the first time are looking for advice on product selection, retailer recommendations, and quality medical advice. Our focus is in the emerging demographic of non-traditional marijuana users – moms, dads, professionals, and the elderly.
Why does your website refer to “recommendations” rather than prescriptions?
Since cannabis is classified at this time by the FDA as a Schedule l drug, a physician is not able to prescribe it. A recommendation is what is required to obtain it from a dispensary.
How many states does HelloMD offer its services in? Do you anticipate expanding to more in the near future?
At the current time, telemedicine evaluations of patients for medicinal cannabis are only allowed in California and Nevada. Hopefully in the near future other states will realize telemedicine opens access to people who cannot find physicians close to them to provide this service. We plan on opening physical offices in states where telemedicine is not allowed for medical cannabis recommendations.
Did the company’s focus on technology change with this decision?
By having secure and HIPAA-compliant video conferencing, we are at the forefront of patient engagement. We will be releasing our mobile application within the next two weeks.
How do you foresee this market – telemedicine for easy and secure access to medical marijuana dispensaries – growing?
Since we are not a dispensary, we have partnered with ones that are leaders in the field of obtaining the best products that have been tested for quality and purity, so that the patients are assured that what they are putting in the body is safe and contains what is stated on the label.
As more people realize that they can get a qualified physician to evaluate them from the comfort and privacy of their home or other location convenient to them, we know that the market will expand. By creating access for people that don’t want to travel to undesirable areas of town, have transport issues, find it hard to arrange transport, are in retirement communities and are housebound, or for any other reason that they want to reach out online, we are confident that this will grow. Over the past few months we have seen an explosion of demand and don’t foresee it slowing down.
What has patient reception been like over the last several months?
Reception has been phenomenal. The feedback from patients who realize that they can see a physician without traveling, parking, waiting in an office, etc. has been nothing but positive. As I mentioned above, our key focus is increasing access for patients to help them with their medical issues by the most convenient and seamless way possible.
How do you envision telemedicine and other digital health technologies advancing patient access to cannabis treatments?
By making available evaluations of patients by telemedicine, this will increase access to care tremendously. At HelloMD, we feel that having a community of patients who can communicate with each other regarding what treatments work for their individual medical condition is also key. We are having sections of our site dedicated to feedback from patients on all aspects of their experiences with medicinal cannabis.