State regulators in charge of overseeing Ohio’s new medical marijuana program have signed a three-year, $1 million contract with Extra Step Assurance, a New Jersey-based company, to operate a toll-free help line, geared towards assisting medical marijuana patients, caregivers and doctors.
The service is an open line for people to receive accurate information about Ohio’s medical marijuana program and regulations, help with licensing applications and the issuing of medical marijuana ID cards, and help answer questions and educate about medical marijuana. Call center representatives will use its database, currently containing more than 5,000 data points on which it can offer factual, research-based information to people interested in familiarizing themselves with the program. Although the help line will not provide medical or legal advice to its callers, Extra Step Assurance will have pharmacists on call to provide information and advice. The purpose of this service isn’t to convince people whether or not medical marijuana is appropriate for them, but rather to educate people with information so that they can decide what is best for them.
State regulations required the State Board of Pharmacy to establish a help line before Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program could become operational. Although similar help lines exist, Ohio is the first of 30 states required by law to have one in place. The help line will be based out of a call center in Bellefontaine and operated by Extra Step Assurance. The service will be staffed from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, according to the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy contract.
Representatives will be available to callers beginning in June to provide information and answer questions concerning developments within the program. Callers will also be provided with helpful resources such as local certified physicians, lawyers, and dispensary locations. Initially, the call center will employ six representatives, who will go through extensive training on how to talk with patients and doctors, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and how to use the company’s database.
Cheryl McDaniel started the Extra Step Assurance subsidiary after offering similar services in the pharmaceutical and medical fields for 20 years. Her company was chosen over four other bidders who were interested in providing the service; Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Advocate Consulting Group, Automated Systems Inc. and Diversity Search Group.
Although many states have a phone number people can call, Ohio’s help line is unique. At this point, there is no other single source in the United States that is doing this type of education. And education is one of the things Ohio is struggling with in its medical marijuana programs. Patients don’t understand it completely, doctors don’t understand it, and one of the reasons this service is so innovative is because it’s not used to talk people into using marijuana, but to provide education to help callers make their own informed decision.
A shortage of doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients has been an issue in other states like Pennsylvania and Florida. This sort of education can help get more physicians involved in Ohio’s program. Extra Step Assurance also operates under the business name Cannabis Expertise, a company that has been approved to offer continuing education credits to Ohio physicians who want to register to recommend marijuana to patients. Extra Step Assurance also plans to help dispensaries establish compliance procedures, however the help line will not be permitted to refer callers to specific physicians or dispensaries.
The true benefit of this service is to give the general public an opportunity to have a live discussion about the issues that they may be incurring beforehand or during their medical marijuana recommendation. This is a better place than, say, a chat room or something that is being read online or in a book. This gives people immediate connection with someone who has answers for them that are current and up to date based on the law and the medical profession. The help line is just one more example that shows that Ohio is committed to making its medical marijuana program a success.
The state has already awarded licenses for marijuana growers late last year and is currently in the process of choosing companies to make medical marijuana products and sell marijuana at dispensaries. Ohio is still in the process of setting up its medical marijuana program, which will serve patients who have one of 21 qualifying medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana. The program is supposed to be fully operational by Sept. 8.