Kiosk to provide free medical care
More than 40 people visited Pahala’s Ka‘u Resource and Distance Learning Center to see a new medical kiosk Friday.
It will serve as a pilot program to assess community need for the high-tech machine’s ability to connect patients with doctors via video. Free visits with primary care doctors will be offered for a year, available to anyone — regardless of insurance coverage.
Hawaii Medical Service Association’s Online Care will partner with the Ka‘u Health Kiosk to supply doctors for the
service. According to HMSA, the physicians will diagnose, recommend treatments and, if necessary, prescribe medications.
The kiosk and service were donated in partnership between telemedicine technology developer American Well and HMSA.
“I think it is a really good partnership with everybody,” said Jessie Marques, executive director of the Ka‘u Rural Health Community Association at 96-3126 Puahala St., where the kiosk is located.
American Well President Dainelle Russella said she’s comfortable speaking to audiences of thousands of people, but she became nervous and emotional when speaking Friday in Pahala because of what she knows the technology means to the rural community.
“We have technology. We have expertise. We have physicians. If we can put that to use, particularly in rural communities that don’t have access, why wouldn’t we do it?” she said.
Kiosks are particularly useful for people with chronic conditions and ailments such as cancer, Russella said. Instead of needing to drive to Hilo repeatedly, someone undergoing cancer therapy or getting diabetes checkups instead can check in through the kiosk.
“It’s like a concierge service for the masses,” Russella said.
Natasha Richards, HMSA business analyst, presented demonstrations to community members who watched with deep interest and asked questions. She said patients discussing an especially private matter can pick up a telephone receiver and the speaker shuts off to add privacy.
“Give us a thumbs up if you can hear us,” she asked on the receiver of someone portraying a doctor on the kiosk’s video screen. Scattered chuckles were heard when he complied.
Those who need assistance signing on the first time will have help available. If the doctor wants to look inside the patient’s ear, a medical staff member will use a device that’s connected electronically to the kiosk.
Blood pressure and other medical readings can be taken with the machine as well.
Richards said the service will be re-evaluated after a year, once data become available about its use. It likely will start with a two-day-a-week availability, plus appointments at other times, and expand from there.
“It’s pretty quick. It’s definitely much quicker than driving over to Hilo,” said Julie Pasquale, site manager for the Pahala Senior Nutrition Center.
Doris Davis said she liked the demonstration and expects to sign up. But, once she does, she’ll probably use her home computer for online health. Her favorite part is the possibility of connecting regularly with a specialist via the kiosk.
“Especially for the dermatologist because I go all the way to Waimea to see the dermatologist,” she said. “If we get a dermatologist, that might save a lot of people a lot of trouble.”
Marques, who was instrumental in organizing the kiosk’s development, said it’s clear there’s a need. But now she’ll be able to collect data about what that need is.
Donna Kekoa, who is a patient representative at Ka‘u Hospital’s Rural Health Clinic, said the kiosk service is needed.
“It’ll open up so many doors for people,” she said. “This’ll be a good asset for people.”
Kekoa said she hopes the word gets out to people as far away as Ocean View, where residents often drive all the way to Kona or Hilo for primary care and to see specialists. She’s hopeful funding to bolster the service can be found.
“Maybe somebody out there will have money and hear our cry,” she said.
Area residents get their first look at a new telemedicine kiosk Friday at the Ka‘u Resource and Distance Learning Center in Pahala.