A family doctor is often difficult to find for the average person living in a major urban centre, but it is even more difficult for those living in rural or remote communities. For many First Nations people living on-reserve and for many tribes in the United States access to quality healthcare, medical devices or medications is simply not an option. However, this lack of care will soon become a thing of the past as more and more health care systems become digitized – transforming the lives of people across North America.
In Canada, Indigenous Canadian Medical Dispensaries (IcMD) – the only fully Indigenous-owned and operated company of its kind – is taking the lead and creating opportunities for Indigenous communities to receive better access to healthcare through telemedicine and video conferencing, lessening the burden on the healthcare system in the long run.
Michael Birch, President and COO of IcMD, grew up in Garden Hill First Nation – a fly-in remote community in Northern Manitoba, Canada, with a population of just over 3,000. Birch remembers not having access to a doctor or nurse, or even a healthcare facility at times. Together with Christopher Henry, a proud member of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) and CEO of IcMD, the duo created IcMD.ca and set out to address the lack of access to almost every healthcare service most Canadians take for granted.
With the focus on equal access to healthcare for Indigenous people – including the right to access medical cannabis – IcMD decided the most transformative option would be through the rapidly growing trend of digital health, and that’s when they came across Namaste Technologies (TSXV:N).
IcMD’s partnership with Namaste Technologies will provide all Indigenous communities across Canada (representing a population of over 1.5 million people) with free access to the company’s revolutionary telemedicine application and online patient portal NamasteMD. In early 2019 NamasteMD will be white-labelled “IcMD”, becoming a dedicated app available on any device with a camera and internet access for Indigenous people across Canada.
This agreement represents a significant milestone, as IcMD and Namaste Technologies collaborate in providing Indigenous communities across Canada with the ability to exercise their right to access medical cannabis. This will be accomplished by offering all community members free video consultations, whereby patients have instant access to doctors or nurse practitioners to review their healthcare requirements. IcMD’s management team is committed to supporting Indigenous communities and believes the application will serve as a powerful tool to enhance the lives of many members. Both IcMD and Namaste Technologies view this partnership as an incredible opportunity to become leaders in Indigenous healthcare by providing people with safe and reliable access to healthcare alternatives, such as through medical cannabis and eventually telemedicine.
“To be able to offer access to reliable, secure healthcare and put it in the hands of our people is a dream I didn’t think would ever happen in my lifetime,” said Birch. “By partnering with Namaste Technologies we will finally be able to give all Indigenous people, regardless of location, access to a more equal standard of care.”
Birch and Henry have each worked in and with Indigenous communities for almost three decades, and have dedicated their lives to driving social change. Recognizing the dangers of an impending opioid epidemic, Birch and Henry knew there was no better time to implement a system that could provide better access to healthcare. “We know that drugs are an immense problem in many communities. Since launching the program at the Assembly of First Nations General Assembly in July 2018, we’ve found that most Elders and communities are very receptive to the program because it can help deal with one of the biggest problems in Indigenous communities, which is addiction and over-prescription of pharmaceuticals.”
“Having the support of Elders and community leaders is essential to ensuring the realization of the program. While the youth in our communities are the fastest growing segment in Canada, it is the Elders and leadership we must look to for guidance,” said Henry.
IcMD – The Service and Application
“IcMD.ca” (NamasteMD) is a fully-licensed Health Canada application. Consultation services, advice and care are provided by doctors and nurses through video conferencing and remote patient monitoring. The service is free — there is no charge for the app or consultations, and prescriptions are delivered right to the patient’s door. The only thing someone might pay for is medication if they do not have medical coverage.
“Because this is a fully-licensed Health Canada app, we are able to manage these comprehensive and secure medical records and potentially share them back with the local physician so that everyone can share medical information for the same individual,” said Henry.
“In addition to our Canada-wide pharmacy services we will soon be licensed to ship Canadian quality and priced medications to any of our brother or sister nations in the United States or to any American who needs equal access to fair pricing.”
The services offered by IcMD are primarily focused on those with chronic illnesses and conditions. A variety of custom healthcare and treatment plan options are provided, including medical cannabis prescriptions, medications and access to medical devices. The goal is to improve quality of life, achieve each person’s wellness goals and heal the body so people can live the best life possible. It’s up to the individual to choose the treatment plan with which they are most comfortable.
“The hope is to get people back to a more natural method of healing, which may require the use of medical cannabis and CBDs, in turn reducing the reliance on pharmaceuticals,” explained Henry. “So many people are suffering from joint pain, arthritis and other ailments that can be treated without damage to the body by using medical cannabis. CBDs, for example, have nothing to do with getting high – they’re about managing inflammation, arthritis, mood stabilization and insomnia. Health Canada has had a medical cannabis system in place since 2001. This is a long-established industry in which Health Canada itself lists over 25 conditions that can be treated with medical cannabis products. Health Canada has even approved clinical trials for using CBDs on pets.”
Telemedicine is evolving at such a rapid pace that even now doctors are able to diagnose illnesses and medical issues using mobile technology. “There’s incredible technology coming out of countries like Israel that can turn your phone into a complete medical device and upload that information to your application so that it gets into your nurses’ and doctors’ hands,” said Henry. “They have blood pressure monitors that connect to and are powered by your phone, and blood glucose monitors for diabetes that take your readings and maintain the records for viewing by your doctor or nurse. Even devices that monitor you from a sensor on your body and administer insulin as required.”
Many cell phone cameras today are capable of being used to see basic issues in eyes, ears, noses and throats. Uploading a picture of a skin issue could be enough to get a referral to the right specialist. With the advancements in telemedicine, IcMD will give everyone access to equal care from the comfort of their own homes.
SAY asked Henry of IcMD if there is concern about not being able to reach those who do not have access to a digital device; “Indigenous people are some of the most digitally-connected groups, despite having a lack of access to many services. Almost everyone has a cell phone – we all rely on them,” said Henry. “With a goal of reaching 1.5 million people, it’s possible we won’t be able to reach everyone in every community in every region. However, provincial and federal governments are committing hundreds of millions of dollars to bring high-speed internet to rural and remote communities in the North. As they complete those programs, people will have increased access.”
IcMD is part of what some may categorize as somewhat of a generational shift. The trend of faster, more efficient and more accessible care that offers virtual visits without having to leave home or the office has become a priority for many of us in the fast-paced world in which we live. Additionally, the option to access more natural methods of healing and recovery is a welcomed alternative for many.
IcMD asks that in considering your healthcare delivery systems and standard of care, and as with any new program or healthcare regime, to be responsible, do your research and understand the risks. Consider your healthcare goals and establish what you are and what you are not comfortable with.
For additional information and resources on medical cannabis consult the Government of Canada website at https://www. canada.ca/en/health-canada/topics/accessing-cannabis-for-medical-purposes. html.
For more information on IcMD and its services, please visit https://icmd.ca.
The Information provided in this article is for information purposes only and does not necessarily re ect the opin- ions of SAY Magazine or Spirit of Aboriginal Youth Enterprises. While cannabis can have medical bene ts, it also comes with limitations and risks. Nothing in SAY Magazine or saymag.com should be construed as an attempt to o er or render a medical opinion or otherwise engage in the practice of medicine. None of the individual contrib- utors, developers, sponsors or anyone else connected to SAY are responsible for the results or consequences of any attempt to use or adopt any of the information presented in SAY magazine or on saymag.com.