Local clinics approach medical marijuana cautiously
WILLMAR -- As Minnesota enters a new era of legalized medical marijuana, Willmar-area health providers are taking the cautious route. Affiliated Community Medical Centers is leaving it up to individual doctors to decide whether to become certifie...
WILLMAR - As Minnesota enters a new era of legalized medical marijuana, Willmar-area health providers are taking the cautious route.
Affiliated Community Medical Centers is leaving it up to individual doctors to decide whether to become certifiers for medical cannabis use - a step that an unspecified handful of ACMC physicians has already taken.
“It’s going to be individually driven,” said Dr. David Newcomer, chief medical officer at ACMC. “We do have a process in place for how they become certified and how they certify their patients.”
Family Practice Medical Center, meanwhile, has adopted a wait-and-see approach and will refer patients to the Minnesota Department of Health website if they ask about obtaining medical marijuana.
Both organizations anticipate their patients will ask for the drug.
“I know that we have had inquiries,” said Stacey Zondervan, Family Practice Medical Center manager.
But the providers say the uncertainties and unknowns surrounding medical cannabis use and the new law have led them to proceed carefully.
“This is really uncharted territory,” Zondervan said. “We are taking a very conservative approach. We are standing back a bit to see how the process evolves.”
One of the main concerns is what many medical professionals see as a relative shortage of research-based evidence on how well the drug works and who’s the best candidate for using it.
As the ACMC board of directors discussed how to proceed, the limited evidence so far that surrounds the medical use of marijuana “was a major concern,” Newcomer said, adding that the issue has created “a lively debate” among the medical staff.
For the doctors within ACMC’s regional multispecialty health system, there’s been some uncertainty about how the new law might apply to them, he said. “They’re concerned about it and not sure how it’s going to fit into their practice.”
The board had to work its way through concerns about the efficacy of medical marijuana, the potential for interactions with other drugs and the possibility of diversion into the wrong hands, he said.
Another concern was to avoid stigmatizing patients who are legally certified to use medical marijuana for an appropriate qualifying condition.
In the months leading up to Wednesday’s official legalization of medical marijuana use in Minnesota, one of the challenges for medical clinics was that information was in constant flux, said Zondervan. “It is a fluid situation. It has been ever evolving.”
For example, it wasn’t until May that the Minnesota Legislature clarified the medical cannabis statute to address patients’ use of medical cannabis while hospitalized or in a nursing home, rehab hospital or other health facility.
In taking a wait-and see stance, the family practice clinic’s doctors wanted to be cautious, Zondervan said. “If this is a path that we want to go down, we want to make sure we’re walking down the path properly.”
Obtaining access to medical cannabis ultimately will come down to individual discussions and decision-making between patients and doctors, said Newcomer.
Recognizing there may be patients who pressure their doctor for the drug, ACMC has told its certifying physicians to consider what’s most appropriate for the patient, he said. “They can say they’re not comfortable with it. We want to make sure our doctors know the treatment has to be right for the patient.”
Patients under hospice care likely will account for the majority of local patients certified for medical cannabis use, he said.
ACMC also plans to track and collect data on how many of its physicians are certifying, how many patients are certified and how those patients fare, he said. “We’re certainly going to be interested in how patients are doing with the treatment and what the outcomes are.”