Kiosk to pro­vide free med­i­cal care

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By JEFF HANSEL

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.

JEFF HANSEL/Tri­bune-Her­ald

Area res­i­dents get their first look at a new telemedicine kiosk Fri­day at the Ka‘u Re­source and Dis­tance Learn­ing Cen­ter in Pahala.

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