The unlikely alliance of medical cannabis and digital medical innovation

The unlikely alliance of medical cannabis and digital medical innovation
© iStock/gonin

A fundamental re-examination of healthcare delivery is occurring, and with the growing demand for medical cannabis, digital medical innovation may be an accommodating solution.

Speaking to the CEO of MedPayRx, Marguerite Arnold, at the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Berlin, Germany, Health Europa gains an insight into the European landscape regarding the increasing acceptance of the digital era and the high patient demand for medical cannabis. Here we focus in on Germany and explore how digital medical innovation can go hand in hand with delivering the growing demand for medical cannabis.

What are the current attitudes in Germany regarding digital medical innovation and medical cannabis? How far do you think you’ve come with MedPayRx in response to these attitudes?

Both fields are merging, the digital revolution is hitting at the same time as the medical cannabis revolution. And not only in Germany but across Europe. Certainly, in the UK, people are slowly coming to the realisation that medical cannabis is an effective form of treatment, which in turn is pushing us (MedPayRx) to find an innovative way to accommodate this demand.

As the public is reforming the health system, companies are trying to figure out ways to treat patients. On the digital front, the German aspect is different than the UK, as the German culture is very privacy centric. Here you will find people who are very uncomfortable with sharing their private details, certainly health data.

However, in the last 2-3 years there has been a dramatic shift, as the German Government, particularly Jens Spahn, the German Health Minister, is aggressively focused on preserving healthcare as well as accommodating the shift to digital and is acknowledging the emerging digital medical innovation field.

Moreover, at the same time there is a shifting attitude towards cannabis. Even though it is stigmatised here like anywhere else, an important perspective to understand is; once you get the average German away from the cannabis stigma, they know it is a natural medication, and an increasing number of Germans are aware of individuals who have been or are being treated with medical cannabis. And from that perspective, the German attitude is shifting.

On both fronts’ attitudes are shifting quickly and I believe this is helping MedPayRx in the sense of explaining our story and creating an ecosystem of people who are interested in these fields. There is a remarkably interesting discussion going on right now and we are right in the middle of it.

Are we going to launch with cannabis first? There is a very good possibility we might. But regardless of whether we do or do not, we are moving forward. MedPayRx has had an incredible run, with a high-end incubator in Munich, sponsored by the government and a number of insurance companies, we are now looking to take research further with workshops planned in Cologne, Germany.

We have been around for about two years and we see the logical benefits of medical cannabis and digital medical innovation, now that there is a conversation pushing us, it is an amazing time to be doing what we’re doing.

Tell us about the development process of the digital prescription platform, and why medical cannabis was used as a market entry strategy as opposed to other medications
We are not in the market just yet, but we are moving forward fast (and in multiple countries).

We are using a technology called blockchain, in a slightly different way than you might have encountered it before.

MedPayRx is not looking at this as cryptocurrency problem. We are using blockchain because of its ability to work as a communications protocol between many disparate, other centralised parties.

Essentially, this technology allows us to communicate, like a data phone call and also a processing phone call – almost like a command through cyberspace. Within that our platform encompasses the following three aspects;

  • Digital prescription;
  • Digital claim; and
  • And a payment authorisation.

We looked at this problem originally from a banking and insurance perspective. The contract we create is similar in complexity to a securitised cross-border trade between multiple parties and multiple players. And essentially, this is how our digital medical innovation technology works on the back end.

A prescription itself – no matter on paper or digital bytes, is in fact a contract between all parties involved, such as the doctor, patient, pharmacy, government and insurer. We just make that interaction work in an efficient manner. The typical prescription process currently is mostly a paper system (just about everywhere), which is unbelievably inefficient. MedPayRx is taking elements of the current system and translating them into a highly efficient, digital processing ecosystem.

Furthermore, within this ecosystem, the platform will take into account dynamic aspects such as the new regulations – creating a completely anonymous, GDPR compliant system.
Regarding medical cannabis, I have seen what this drug can do for people who have had no other hope. I believe that this is a very interesting and strategic drug to begin with, and I don’t believe this should be a drug of the last resort.

There are a lot of trials and data, especially in places like Israel, although it is clear that we have not done nearly enough research on all aspects of medical use – including efficacy. However, at this point, certainly in Europe, if an individual is suffering with chronic pain, has cancer or is disabled by a movement disorder, they should be able to get medical cannabis fairly quickly. People in this medical category of chronic illness should have every right to have access to this drug.

That has not been the case.

For example, since the UK’s legalisation of medical cannabis occurred last November 2018, shockingly only a handful of British patients have been prescribed the drug. Only a handful. Now this may partly be due to the negative stigma surrounding cannabis and the medical cannabis discussion, or even the import price discussion. Nevertheless, this is suggesting a broken system, and it is not just cannabis it is a much bigger systematic issue.

I believe what individuals need to understand about this drug is that it works quickly and very effectively. I think in the next decade we will experience a dramatic shift regarding cannabis.

What is the supply chain process (from seed to sale) for both patients and businesses when it comes to providing medical cannabis?

MedPayRx turns this whole thing upside down. Firstly, it is important to understand that the government did not anticipate the dynamic shift in demand regarding medical cannabis, this is clearly shown in the cannabis industry as there are still places where legislation is not clearly outlined, and this is understandable as it is a new drug.

Nevertheless, our supply chain process begins with the patient and doctor first. Here, the prescription becomes a pre-paid and pre-authorised order. Therefore, by the time this order hits the pharmacy, the distributers and the producer already know that there is an order in process, which has been medically approved, rather than the doctors waiting for an existing supply of the medication to be approved and provided to patients.

Ultimately, we are the technical back end of this whole system. We are going to be a part of European Cannabis Week in London; we have already held two workshops in Cologne (you can find the reports on our website). It is an exciting time.

As much as it is fantastic to have a brilliant idea, you have to make it work in the market. Our pilot programme enables us to test and effectively observe how quickly we can get this concept out to the public and business ecosystem, execute the platform’s services efficiently and launch the system.

What is the future for MedPayRx and the world of medical cannabis?

Hopefully those two fields will be well connected in the future. Medical cannabis is here. It has landed in Europe; the discussion is now finally happening and there are major policy shifts underway regardless of how slow and frustrating it may be.

Firstly, I believe that this time next year we will begin to see cultivated medical cannabis being integrated into the German system. There is a huge cross continental discussion taking place and this is just the beginning.

The second point is, the EU and UN are still figuring out how they are going to regulate this internationally. I believe recreational cannabis may possibly be 5 years from legalisation, however the EU and UN need to thoroughly regulate the medical aspect first.

The medical cannabis route has been great for getting into the market, and we are doing everything we can to bring this to fruition now. This is excellent timing for digital medical innovation and the ever-dynamic disruptive influence of medical cannabis.

About MedPayRx

MedPayRx is a high-tech health Dapp (distributed application), designed to work within the health structures of Europe. The Dapp was created to streamline the prescription, distribution and insurance of all prescription drugs, prescription-based procedures and medical equipment.

Marguerite Arnold

Please note, this article will appear in issue 10 of Health Europa Quarterly, which will be available to read in July 2019.

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