My mom was recently diagnosed with cancer for a second time and I happily helped her get a prescription for medical cannabis. Going through this with her made me realize there are a number of barriers to access. She found the process overwhelming and complicated. I believe she wouldn't have actually got a prescription if I hadn't been there to help her. So what exactly are the barriers?
1. Lack of information about how to get a prescription
When my mom found out she had cancer, she told her family doctor that she "wasn't doing this again without medical marijuana." The physician maintained a straight face and said nothing. Not particularly helpful.
The majority of physicians in Canada are not educated on medical cannabis and are unable or unwilling to write prescriptions to patients. This makes it difficult to talk with your doctor about medical cannabis, let alone get a prescription.
2. Use of technology
There is a growing number of medical cannabis qualifying clinics but they are not in every Canadian town and city. Luckily most clinics are willing to do online consultations with patients through video conferencing technology like Skype.
This is a great option. Unless you're 60 years old and have never heard of Skype.
The process alone of registering for an online video conferencing account, using a webcam and launching a video call is intimidating for a lot of people. It's one step in the process where a potential patient may back out.
3. Online registration and shopping
Once a prescription has been issued, a patient will be registered with a Licensed Producer (LP). This is the next part of the process that is heavily reliant on technology.
Typically the first contact that the patient has with the LP is through email. Based on my experience, LPs do not call new patients to confirm their registration.
They receive an email notification confirming registration and are asked to create an online account. The patient can see all the products online and place their order through the LP's e-commerce store.
To be fair, the LPs I've interacted with do also offer great customer support by phone, and patients can order products by speaking with a representative. However, the system is built around technology, which is totally understandable, yet is an obvious barrier to some patients.
4. An immature process
The medical cannabis industry in Canada is relatively young. I have found that some of the LPs processes aren't consistent or mature. In some cases, I have run into obvious bugs on websites or in online stores. I am fairly tech savvy, so I can recognize these issues and work around them, but someone like my mom can't. She doesn't recognize the problem – she quickly becomes confused, thinks she did something wrong and is unsure of how to move forward.
I'm confident these issues will be solved as the market evolves, but for now, it's a barrier.
5. Sick patients
If you have ever been around someone who has been diagnosed with a serious disease or is treating the symptoms of one, you can probably agree they're not always in the best state of mind. They are scared, anxious and possibly in a lot of pain.