Medical cannabis is now becoming known as one of the safest and most effective form of treatment for many qualified medical conditions. More states are recognizing its incredible healing properties and legalizing its medicinal use. Thankfully, Florida is one of them. However, among the many important decisions special needs parents need to make, finding the right doctor for qualifying and treating your child with medical cannabis is a decision not to be taken lightly. Our family was in search of a doctor who is aligned with our beliefs for holistic approaches, knowledgeable in treating special needs children with medical cannabis, and values meaningful doctor-patient relationships. Few doctors have all of these characteristics or this level of expertise, making this one of the most difficult tasks to take on. Luckily, we found a specialist who exceeded our expectations in Dr. David Berger of Wholistic Releaf.
Dr. David has over twenty years of experience specializing in treating children with special needs. His practice, “Wholistic Pediatrics and Family Care” offers families alternative and various holistic methods for healing and treating medical conditions. Dr. David didn’t just complete the required medical course for becoming a qualified Florida Medical Cannabis physician. Compelled by his compassion to help families like ours who are desperate for a solution not found in traditionally prescribed medications, Dr. David did his due diligence in researching medical cannabis and learned of its application for other medical conditions. Dr. David has significant clinical experience using cannabis to treat conditions in both adults and children. Taking it a step further, he opened “Wholistic Releaf”, a specialty clinic dedicated to medical cannabis. Impressed by his proficient understanding of the use of CBD and THC, their various strains, delivery methods, how the body metabolizes different methods, appropriate dosage, and providing options for ongoing guidance, we chose Dr. David to work with our family in moving forward treating Richie with medical cannabis.
Our son Richie was diagnosed with autism at age two. He is now sixteen-years-old and having worked with doctors, specialists, and other service providers, we certainly learned a few things about setting the bar high for patient-doctor relationship expectations. Our experience taught us how to be experts in identifying the kind of doctor and practice that would be a good fit for our family. When we decided we wanted to try medical cannabis to help with Richie’s symptoms (anxiety, panic attacks, self-injurious behavior and aggressive acts towards others), we didn’t just want a physician who was certified to qualify candidates for medical cannabis. We wanted a doctor who specialized in holistic healing methods and who has a strong understanding of medical cannabis. While a dispensary employee or salesperson may be knowledgeable and can make good suggestions on the various product options and their dosage, they don’t have the medical training needed to understand what might work best with your child’s medical history and condition. When our family started working with Dr. David Berger of Wholistic Releaf, we knew we had found the perfect fit for our family.
The Wholistic Releaf Patient-Centric Mindset
Many of us may know what it’s like to have found the right doctor in the wrong practice. A poorly managed doctor’s office can make or break any patient-doctor relationship. Our experience with Wholistic Releaf began with a simple phone call to the office for scheduling an appointment with Dr. David. I was greeted by a welcoming voice who took my information politely for scheduling purposes. I was asked if I had visited the Wholistic Releaf website and if I reviewed the "How to Get Started" page. I had actually already done this prior to my phone call (the site is filled with great information and resources). Our appointment was then scheduled for 9:15 on a Friday morning a few weeks later (there were earlier dates available but I couldn't make those work). We were told to expect a staff member’s phone call or email with next step instructions. We were contacted by the very kind-hearted Gabrielle who told me I should be receiving an email inviting us to create our patient portal account, and we did as quickly as one day later. The patient portal is efficiently designed for communicating with Dr. David, Wholistic Releaf staff, completing patient questionnaire forms, and sharing information with the practice electronically. Once our account was set-up (which took only minutes to do as the system is very user friendly), we were able to upload important documents, such as Richie’s medical diagnosis, IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or other information relevant to his condition. The portal is also convenient for requesting appointments, reviewing lab results, and accessing other information Dr. David might share with us.
Whenever I had a question or needed assistance, after entering my inquiries into the patient portal, I received a phone call from one of two lovely ladies. Office staff members Gabrielle and Whitley were efficient and helpful with guiding me through any steps in the process I might have missed. The Wholistic Releaf practice and all staff members are passionate about taking a patient-centered approach. They have a deep understanding of the needs of their patients and their families. My questions were answered timely with patience and sensitivity (I may have asked a question more than once or asked a question that was answered in an email already sent to me).
Our Patient-Doctor Experience
On the day we were scheduled to meet Dr. David for our first appointment, Richie was already having a rough morning. Although I tried my best to explain to him the changes in his daily routine, he became increasingly annoyed during our ride over to the Wholistic Releaf Clinic. We knew this appointment wouldn’t be an easy one. Richie had already started whining and kicking my back seat, which was a sure sign for challenging behavior ahead. When we arrived at the clinic’s parking lot, Richie started to hit both Kirk and I on the arms and head. I was immediately mortified as I could see people staring into the car as they walked by. After getting out of the car, my husband Kirk had to hold Richie’s hands tightly as we walked into the clinic. Richie was head-butting Kirk’s shoulder as we walked inside. I told the two smiling ladies at the front desk we had an appointment at 9:15 am. One of them kindly asked, “Is this Richie?” I answered yes and stated that he was having a rough morning. “We’ve all had rough mornings,” she replied. She asked us to please have a seat in the waiting area and that Dr. Berger would see us in a few moments.
If a waiting room is the first indication of what we can expect from a doctor and his or her practice, then the words “comfortable, calm and child-friendly” comes to mind when walking into the Wholistic Releaf waiting room. Instead of rows of thinly-padded, hard chairs and tables cluttered with outdated magazines, this room was spacious and nicely decorated with several large, comfortable leather sofas and soothing views of underwater murals.
Truth be told, I wasn’t myself that morning. I was worried about Richie and how he was feeling. He tried several times to hit Kirk who patiently sat next to him and tried squeezing his hands while holding them (this usually offered Richie some relief when he was upset). Another lovely woman greeted us in the waiting room and stated that after our appointment with Dr. David, she would be bringing me an iPad to review and sign a state required disclosure about cannabis and its uses.
A few moments later, Dr. David came out of his office and greeted us with a welcoming smile in record time. I couldn’t believe it. Part of my feeling anxious was over the lengthy waiting period typically experienced at other doctor appointments. Our appointment was on schedule and I was already starting to feel relieved. This told us that Dr. David was organized and respected and valued our time as patients. We were invited into Dr. David’s office and made ourselves comfortable. We started with warm introductions and I explained that Richie was already having a rough morning and getting increasingly aggressive with both of us. I gave Richie my cell phone to play with, so we can speak and listen to Dr. Berger with ease (I knew this was reinforcing the behavior, but I truly had little choice in this case). Dr. David smiled at Richie and said, “He’s just showing up for me today.” The next few moments were taken to confirm information and details about Richie’s medical history already entered in the system. Now, this was truly amazing for me. I was always prepared to answer the very same questions I answered on the long questionnaires we completed at other doctor’s offices. Dr. David reviewed our information prior to our visit, saving precious meeting time because we were able to go right into the needed discussion (this is especially great for kids with autism who have issues with staying in unfamiliar places for long periods of time).
Dr. David was incredibly meticulous with educating us on how Richie qualifies for treatment, what product options are currently available, and how together we would manage Richie's treatment. Today, autism is not on the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis treatment. However, we learned that Richie's symptoms (resulting from having autism) are similar to symptoms seen in qualifying conditions such as PTSD (anxiety, panic attacks, violent behavior, insomnia and irritability) and Parkinson’s Disease (decreased ability to communicate) - making him a qualifying candidate. Dr. David explained the various products available in Florida that contain a combination of CBD and THC ratios, the types of strains made available, and his recommended treatment approach for Richie (we'll go into more detail on the development of a well-crafted treatment plan in the fourth segment of our blog series!). Dr. David spoke to us in clear and concise language, he didn't overwhelm or confuse us by using too much medical terminology as he explained his treatment recommendations for Richie.
Dr. David also reviewed our next steps. He explained that as required in the state of Florida, he will have to enter Richie and I into the Florida Medical Marijuana Use Registry (only certified physicians are able to enter patients into the system before they can continue with the application process). We also learned that because Richie is a minor, it is required that a second physician concur with Dr. David's recommendations for medical cannabis treatment (an additional service provided by Wholistic Releaf). He provided additional resources, suggested reading material, and he explained the application process and what we should expect in step-by-step detail.
As we neared the end of our appointment meeting, it became clear to us that Dr. David is a great communicator who works together with his patients. My husband and I felt comfortable knowing we made the right choice working with Dr. David and moving forward with his treatment approach for Richie. For the first time in a long time, we were hopeful about improving Richie’s behavior, helping to ease his anxiety, and improving his overall quality of life.
Read our next series segment Part III: The Florida Medical Marijuana Use Registry Process
Read part I of the series segment: Why We Chose Medical Cannabis to Treat Our Son with Autism
Although we received services as part of our collaboration with Wholistic Releaf for raising awareness on treating autism with medical cannabis, all opinions expressed are my own.
Author: Christine Goulbourne