HIPAA-Compliant Online Chats For Medical Marijuana Come to New York — Deliveries Too

July 31, 2017

Published on Forbes  July 28, 2017

It can be hard for medical marijuana patients to get to a dispensary if for example they are homebound, elderly or suffer from seizures and can’t drive. A patchwork of delivery services has been expanding around the country, based on each state, county or city’s laws.

But medical marijuana patients, like any others, are also worried about the privacy of their health and medication information. That was the impetus behind Columbia Care’s new HIPAA compliant video software, paired with a delivery service to streamline the process of ordering and receiving medical cannabis.

Based in New York, Columbia Care employs 370 people across eleven states. It has plans to expand to five additional states and hopes to be licensed in a few more over the next year. “The plan is to pilot services in New York, and if they’re successful, we can expand to other states,” said Nick Vita, Chief Executive.

The company is funded by private investors.

Using the new system, Columbia Care patients who have received a medical marijuana card from a doctor, will be able to video conference with a pharmacist and then order cannabis online for home delivery and receive online chat support. The company’s delivery area covers approximately 3500 square miles. About 450 patients have used the chat or delivery services so far.

To maintain safety, delivery vehicles are unmarked and patients pay the drivers for the cannabis plus a twenty dollar delivery fee, using a debit card upon delivery so the drivers carry no cash.

Medical cannabis laws are evolving in New York, just like they are in other state where the substance is legal. Currently patients there can buy cannabis oils to use with vaporizers, as well as tinctures and capsules, but flower is still illegal. Topicals may be approved soon, so the company is looking ahead to see how they can provide them.

Patients that have questions about their cannabis can chat online with pharmacists in a HIPAA compliant system. “Security and privacy are very important,” said Vita. “We want to follow the law to maintain the integrity of the customer relationship.”

Sales can add up quickly. The California-based company EAZE, provides an app that connects medical marijuana patients with background-checked drivers to get cannabis delivered from local dispensaries. A recent survey of 10,000 EAZE users found the average customer spends about $1700 per year on cannabis. More information from their 32-question consumer survey can be found here.

Columbia Care’s business is vertically integrated, operating a seed to sale model that spans from growing cannabis to processing and delivering it. One of the biggest surprises so far has been how complicated managing the whole chain is. “There’s an enormous amount of complexity based on regulatory schemes for each area,” Vita said.

That complexity requires hiring experts from other business areas. “We’re looking for people from other highly regulated industries like financial services and pharmaceuticals,” willing to come over he said. “They can share best practices, they know six sigma for quality control and they have operating discipline.”

As the company grows, “Keeping everything moving in the right direction” under the panoply of rules remains challenging, according to Vita.

Still, they remain optimistic. “Our current average patient is a 54 year old male,” said Corey Hewitt, market director for Columbia Care in New York state. “We have a wide array of patients and that is going to help legitimize the industry faster.”