On the day after Christmas, like many people, I sat on the couch in my pajamas, sipping coffee and staring at my laptop. I wasn’t watching Netflix or taking a Facebook quiz, though; instead, I was waiting for my evaluation to become a New York medical marijuana patient. The “Start Session” button activated on the PrestoDoctor website, and I clicked it excitedly and a bit nervously, wishing I could conduct all my doctor’s appointments with a cat in my lap.
Dr. Jaclyn Schneider was my physician, and she was smiling when the camera came on. We conducted the appointment entirely through the website; no Skype or other software necessary. I told her I was suffering from osteoarthritis and torn cartilage in my shoulder, and she quickly approved me for medical cannabis as a chronic-pain patient. The entire appointment took less than 15 minutes, and the recommendation letter appeared in my email a few hours later. By then, I’d showered and changed clothes, but still hadn’t left the house. I fantasized about online shoulder surgery.
PrestoDoctor, which also offers evaluations for patients in California and Nevada, is the brainchild of Rob Tankson, a former Wall Street analyst with a finance and technology background. He and his business partner Kyle Powers, who made the Forbes 30-under-30 list, saw the need for a combination of healthcare and telemedicine in the cannabis industry. “PrestoDoctor launched in California in early 2015, expanded to Nevada in mid-2016 and started seeing NY patients in late 2017,” says Tankson. At the time of the California launch, “there was nobody offering telemedicine appointments for cannabis, and it was also difficult to find a doctor that was knowledgeable about the plant and its medicinal benefits.”
Although there are plenty of doctors offering in-person evaluations in California, the experience of visiting one can be a little intimidating, especially for first-time cannabis users. Sometimes the doctors’ offices are in dubious locations; I once accompanied a Bay Area friend to her appointment in an office located in a back corner of an industrial park, indicated only by a green cross over the door. Tankson and Powers focused on patient education and experience, filling a niche by allowing patients to receive their recommendations in the safest, most comfortable environment of all: their own homes.
All you need to schedule an evaluation on the website is a photo ID, a computer or smartphone with a camera, and a credit or debit card. Once you’ve emailed the picture of your ID and entered your credit-card information, you can schedule promptly (I was able to get an appointment within two hours). The fees vary from state to state. In California, it’s $49.99 (or $79.99 for non-residents); in Nevada, it’s $109.99 for a one-year card or $129.99 for a two-year card; and in New York, it’s $139.99.
When asked about the price difference, Tankson explains, “The program in California has been around longer and as a result, there are more physicians that offer medical cannabis evaluations. Doctors [in California] also only require a medical license in order to issue a cannabis recommendation. New York is a newer market, and there’s not as much access. Physicians in the state of New York must also be registered with the department of health and pass a certification course in order to begin evaluating patients in the program.”
The company plans to expand its services when New York inevitably legalizes recreational cannabis. “We are experienced in operating in states that go from medical only to adult use as both California and Nevada legalized in the past two years,” says Tankson. “We are expanding into new markets and other lines of business to grow with the market. Ultimately, with PrestoDoctor, we plan to remain a major industry thought leader. As the patient and user base increases, there are more people considering [cannabis] as an option, wanting to know how cannabis interacts with or potentially replaces opioids and other pharmaceutical drugs.”
My recommendation letter arrived the day after my appointment, and I had no problem registering my patient number with the New York State website. I had my temporary card that evening, and was able to buy a vape cartridge at a dispensary near my house the next day. The process was safe, simple, and completely non-sketchy from beginning to end. My experience with PrestoDoctor left me wondering why anyone would get their medical recommendation any other way. I look forward to seeing how the company expands as availability and legality of cannabis expand – which, for us New Yorkers, can’t happen soon enough.