In the first article of a new series, Cannabiz shines a spotlight on the women making Australia one of the world’s most gender-diverse legal cannabis industries.
Lisa Nguyen is a woman on a mission. Having cut her teeth at Canopy Growth and Medlab Clinical, she’s launched a new pharmacy in Melbourne’s South Yarra which aims to smash down the barriers to entry familiar to so many Australian cannabis patients.
Astrid Dispensary is a boutique pharmacy pioneering patient-centred care, plant-based medicine and medicinal cannabis.
Founder and managing director Nguyen recognised patients still struggle to find a pharmacy and/or pharmacist that understands medicinal cannabis, who can work alongside doctors to monitor patients and dispense cannabis medication in a timely manner.
She said: “Although some education is available, doctors are still fearful of prescribing medicinal cannabis due to a lack of understanding and the stigma associated with it, despite it being legalised for some years now, making the journey for patients extremely convoluted and confusing.”
Nguyen said even once patients are finally prescribed, the next step – finding a pharmacy – can also be confusing and frustrating.
“Patients often need to ask their pharmacist to source the product and dispense the medication. But finding a pharmacist that understands medicinal cannabis, that can provide appropriate education and follow up, is very difficult.
“In some instances, patients wait up to 4-5 days for their medication as pharmacies do not have the capacity to have the product available in a timely manner.”
Astrid operates a unique end-to-end business model with a focus on timely access and continued patient care.
It offers a front-of-house service where patients undergo a medical review by a healthcare professional (virtually or face to face in the dispensary’s lounge) to assess their eligibility for treatment and educate them on the endocannabinoid system.
Once deemed eligible, a criteria set by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the patient is connected virtually via iPads in the dispensary to a large range of affiliated doctors all over Australia.
Astrid has also partnered with Epsilon Healthcare’s telehealth arm Tetra Health to provide in-person consultations.
Nguyen said: “Currently cannabis medicines remain as a last-line treatment. The patient must have exhausted all approved treatments before they are eligible. That’s why we are so passionate about providing timely access, for eligible patients, and ongoing education by taking the time to explain how the process works and providing support once they have been prescribed. Continuation of care is so important. It’s not a transactional process.
“We work with Authorised Prescribers to ensure we always have medicinal cannabis products available for patients, so that once they come to see us, it is less about sourcing the medicine and more about educating them how to use it safely.
“When you go to the pharmacy you have to speak to the pharmacist behind the often-crowded counter – it’s a very intimidating experience.
“We wanted to soften the pharmacy experience by creating a calm, green space that is inviting and comfortable for visitors and patients. In doing so, we hope to reduce the stigma associated with cannabis.”
As well as its medicinal cannabis services, Astrid also supplies premium skincare brands, evidence-based gut health solutions and plant-based retail products.
After hours, it hosts various events to educate patients and healthcare professionals on health and wellness topics.
And Astrid’s head of patient advocacy and engagement Bee Mohamed is the campaign lead for Drive Change, supported by Reason Party leader Fiona Patten, which aims to amend road safety legislation for medicinal cannabis users.
That’s just one more mission for the team to accomplish.
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