Undercover doc says practices can learn from medical marijuana dispensaries

marijuana leaf
Changing attitudes: 28 states now allow patients to use medical marijuana.

A doctor who went undercover posing as a patient says physicians can learn some lessons from medical marijuana dispensaries.

The dispensaries provide good customer service and give patients a sense of control over their chronic illnesses, David Casarett, M.D., chief of palliative care at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, told an audience at the recent TEDMED 2016 held in Palm Springs, California.

Casarett obtained a doctor’s letter of recommendation for medical marijuana in California—illegal because he isn’t a resident—and went undercover as a patient so he could see firsthand why patients are turning to dispensaries rather than mainstream medicine for the treatment of their chronic illnesses, according to a Medscape report.

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Twenty-eight states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, now allow patients to use medical marijuana. Reflecting the country’s changing attitude toward marijuana, voters in three states approved the use of medical marijuana in the November elections and three other states voted to legalize its recreational use.

"You've got these mom-and-pop dispensaries operating with people who have no medical training, a high-school education. How come they're delivering more patient-centered care than we are?" Casarett asked. Here’s what doctors can learn:

Give patients more control. With the dispensaries, patients decide how and when they want to use medical marijuana, as well as make changes if the treatment doesn’t work for them. Patients can communicate via email, phone or an online portal.

Focus on patient needs. The dispensaries provide education, with those behind the counter taking time to discuss various products and pros and cons for a particular illness. Those running the dispensaries may be better equipped to advise people, as many doctors say they are unprepared to counsel patients about whether marijuana could benefit them.

Integrate a patient’s hopes and goals into the care plan. Casarett was surprised that the dispensaries ask patients what they hope to accomplish and about their fears. Too often, discussions between doctors and patients focus on medical treatments, but not on the patient’s experiences and wishes. 

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