A recent article published by Benzinga poses some interesting questions about telehealth and a drug known as ketamine. It also refers to ‘ketamine telehealth’. But does ketamine telehealth actually exist? No. And to propose it is to miss the point entirely.
First and foremost, telehealth is a tool for providing healthcare services. It is not healthcare in and of itself. The entire concept of ketamine telehealth is rooted in the understanding that doctors use telemedicine technologies to get ketamine into the hands of their patients. If this is an issue, it is not one of technology. It is one of human action.
Originally an Anesthetic
Ketamine was originally developed and marketed as an anesthetic. It is a powerful one at that. But like so many other prescription medications, researchers have figured out that ketamine can be used for other purposes. But it can also be abused as well.
One of the reasons it is so effective as an anesthetic is the drug’s dissociative capabilities. A person on ketamine effectively disassociates themself from external stimuli. They might also hallucinate. All sorts of strange psychoactive effects are possible.
Ketamine is a controlled substance due to its psychoactive nature. It can be a dangerous drug if prescribed improperly or abused. For that reason, there are many people skeptical of doctors prescribing ketamine without seeing patients in person. Therein lies the entire issue of supposed ketamine telehealth.
Freed up by the COVID Pandemic
Doctors in most states cannot normally prescribed ketamine without seeing patients in-person. That changed when the government declared a national health emergency back in 2020. After COVID led to a virtual shutdown of the medical industry, government regulators temporarily lifted the ban against prescribing ketamine and other controlled substances via remote visits.
Few would argue that loosening restrictions was necessary in order to continue providing good care to patients who could not see their doctors in person. But critics argue that it has led to greater abuse of the drug. They say it is time for Washington and the states to put former restrictions back in place in order to stem the tide of ketamine abuse.
Doctors Are Making the Decisions
As is so often the case, we identify a problem and then blame inanimate objects for creating that problem. Again, telehealth is just a tool. More broadly, CSI Health says that telehealth is that collection of technologies that make it possible to deliver remote healthcare services.
Technology has not created the ketamine problem. A tablet computer cannot prescribe ketamine. One of CSI Health’s telemedicine kiosks cannot diagnose a patient as having an illness requiring ketamine. Doctors make those decisions. Doctors evaluate patients, make diagnoses, and write prescriptions.
As such, even discussing ketamine telehealth is to miss the point. First of all, it’s not a thing. Second, any such discussions almost always center around the question of whether doctors should still be able to prescribe ketamine without in-person visits. But again, this is to miss the point.
Trained and Licensed Professionals
Doctors are trained, licensed professionals who we trust to make medical decisions. Their training and licensing are just as valid whether they see a patient in person or through a telemedicine kiosk. So if there’s a ketamine crisis, it’s a crisis among doctors who make decisions. It is not a crisis of technology.
Putting the old rules back in place would not affect just ketamine. It would affect multiple aspects of telemedicine. It would also turn back the clock on technologies and services that could revolutionize healthcare in ways few of us can imagine. Doing so would be a mistake.