Since debuting in California in 1996, medical marijuana has had a slow state-by-state rollout, with 23 states and Washington, D.C., currently permitting some degree of its use.
While legislators have generally focused on the specific details for qualifying conditions, physician eligibility, operator licensing and product distribution, some state health systems have relied on the parts of the whole to function effectively without integrating medical marijuana into their health care regimens.
There are those advocates that fear the corporatization of marijuana, but treating legalized medical marijuana as an outlier diminishes its ability to prove its worth as a medical treatment. If proponents of medical marijuana want the plant as medicine to prosper, they have to borrow a page from established health care services.
Hospitals in the United States have been respected institutions of health since the early 20th century. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the notion of a hospital system or network was established as a means of streamlining health services and improving quality of care, yet mainstream health care has rapidly accelerated the development of reliable business models.
Meanwhile, since 1996, medical marijuana services have mostly remained as stand-alone solution shops, garnering pejorative comparisons to the “doc-in-a-box” or “pill mill” models. Some physicians recommending medical marijuana may operate within these models, but they prevent medical marijuana from advancing into mainstream medical practice.
“Any time you’re a licensed health care provider and you’re not following the appropriate protocols and procedures, you’re essentially setting yourself up for failure,” said Phil DeVries, Founder and CEO of Thera Integrative Healthcare, a full-service clinical provider of traditional and alternative health care services for medical cannabis patients.
If the medical marijuana industry wants to avoid failure, it needs to endorse an accepted health services business model, whether hub and spoke, scaled portfolio, geographic cluster or facilitated network.
Understanding that such a move is vital for the medical marijuana industry’s survival, Thera Integrative Healthcare is creating the first scalable national clinic model that uses medical cannabis patients as a catalyst to a sustainable long-term continual care patient base.
The company is also creating the first national Medical Physician Group that supports Medical Cannabis Services as an alternative treatment for chronic illnesses and provides a continuum of care for patients who elect to choose this treatment.
Starting in Illinois, Thera plans to build a patient base in excess of 100,000 patients nationwide and will collect data on the treatment and efficacy of MCS based on variables such as the ailment treated, strain used and method of delivery.
“No initiative, if you will, has really been done like this before where you’re forming a physician group that supports medical cannabis,” DeVries said. “You really have to instill the trust with the physicians.”
Trust is built through the implementation of protocols and procedures adopted from hospitals and health care groups, such as complying with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, providing a provision of informed consent including discussion of side effects, building a referral-based relationship with medical specialists, updating a patient’s medical records and primary care physician.
“This is medicine at the end of the day and those are the standard procedures that have been in place for years in the medical community,” DeVries added.
Illinois as Proving Ground
With its management team based in Illinois, Thera is launching its first of three clinics in Chicago, Peoria and Southwest Illinois. The state’s first eight dispensaries have opened, and as of Dec. 2, 2015, the Illinois Department of Public Health had approved applications for a total of 3,600 qualifying patients.
Illinois may be in the nascent stage of its medical marijuana program, but Thera’s presence in the state’s medical marijuana community position it to become a destination service that establishes patient relationships from the beginning, rather than having to change patient and physician behaviors.
After refining the model in Illinois, Thera has plans to replicate its success in other states, with potential for new clinic development and the acquisition of existing clinics. Thera’s adoption of an accepted health care model means marijuana can prove its worth as medicine, gain footing in mainstream medical practice and increase the efficiency of health practitioners integrating medical marijuana into their care regimens.