By Daniel Casciato
It was about a year ago when Dr. Kelly E. King founded ReLeafMD and Wellness Center, a medical cannabis clinic located in Brandon, Florida. ReleafMD can also recommend medical marijuana treatment plans in California and New York, although her primary focus has been certifying patients for medical cannabis in Florida. Dr. King first came to Florida in 2004 as an officer in the Air Force stationed at Macdill Air Force Base in Tampa.
She is now a disabled Air Force Veteran and has been an Internist for over 17 years. Dr. King decided to transition her practice from hospital medicine to medical cannabis because she saw a need for alternatives to many of the current medications available to patients such as narcotics, benzodiazepines, anti-inflammatories and anti-anxiety medications. She wanted to be able to provide access and safe treatment plans for patients who desired to use medical cannabis for conditions such as seizures, chronic pain and PTSD.
“Over the years, I have treated many patients with a lot of medications. As an internal medicine physician that is a lot of what we do—prescribe pills,” says Dr. King. “But medical cannabis has been an amazing alternative for many patients; it is not only safe (non-lethal), but highly effective for many chronic conditions that we see in the community. We are in the middle of an opioid epidemic, largely begun by prescription pain pills, medical cannabis should be a no-brainer for physicians, who treat chronic pain or other chronic conditions.”
Dr. King actually began working with a medical cannabis clinic chain in Florida in 2017, but soon left to start ReLeafMD. She wanted a clinic that focused on educating patients with one-on-one consultations as well as comprehensive treatment plans that include ongoing educational support through seminars and workshops, that she now holds monthly for new patients and their families.
“When you have a state such as Florida that only recently legalized medical cannabis, there is a huge knowledge gap among not only patients and physicians, but legislators, law enforcement and mainstream medical facilities,” she says. “This creates misinformation, poor patient experience, and sub-optimal outcomes. There is already stigma surrounding cannabis for obvious reasons, and lack of knowledge makes it even worse.”
She adds that her clinic is different because she takes the time to ensure patients know what they are doing when they go to the dispensaries.
“We start with basic terminology and delivery methods, so that patients get an idea of what to expect when they go to a dispensary, because that first visit can be overwhelming,” she says.
In addition, Dr. King visits each dispensary to make sure the personnel know what they are talking about, and to ensure that what she is telling her patients coincides with what they hear when they go in.
“It also gives them a chance to put a face with a name, so hopefully when my patients are seen there, the personnel there knows that this patient has had some education about cannabis,” she adds.
Dr. King notes that she opened her own cannabis clinic so she can do it the way it should be done.
“There are other physicians in this field that also do this, but they are far and few between,” she says. “I believe educating ourselves to better help our patients is the first thing physicians need to do.”
Helping to educate other physicians is critical not only for her clinic, but for the cannabis industry as a whole. Many physicians do not know where to start with this, even if they want to incorporate this into practice. The two-hour course that the state offers is woefully inadequate to give physicians everything they need to do this properly.
ReleafMD is set up similar to a boutique concierge practice. This means Dr. King will visit her patients at home, assisted living facilities, hospices or hospitals.
“I would like to see more patients in these facilities, but policies there have been difficult to change. Patients on hospice or in assisted living facilities are on an average of 15 to 20 medications,” she says. “Medical cannabis could really go a long way in addressing this polypharmacy.”
When Dr. King sits down with patients she also likes to include the entire family in the discussion.
“I also offer to meet them for their first visit to a dispensary to help reinforce what we have gone over and help them feel comfortable with their first purchases,” she says.
As a full service clinic, Dr. King says that they also help patients register in the state registry, which can be a daunting task.
“My daughter Helena, is my office manager, and she has really been helpful in getting patients registered with the state, which can sometimes involve phone calls that last for 30 or more minutes to assist patients getting registered,” she says. “Imagine a patient who is 75 years old and who may have never owned a computer try to do this at home. You’re setting them up for failure. These are patients who have come in because they have severe pain, anxiety or depression, and then you ask them to try to register themselves with the state! It’s frustrating even for people without these conditions. We want to give them a good starting foundation for their medical cannabis journey.”
Dr. King expresses hope that her clinic will make a huge impact in the cannabis industry here in Florida, and set the example of what a medical cannabis clinic should be.
“There is still so much to be done at the level of the legislature as well,” she says. “That is a huge component. I think clinics like mine, that are educating and taking time with patients, and not just running them in and out like some sort of mill, will endure and be around for a long time. Even if adult use becomes a reality in Florida, patients will still need the guidance and education from a trained practitioner. Those who have established themselves as educators and experts in this field will endure. And that is how we hope to make an impact.”
For more information, visit shopreleafmd.com.