The state is hosting a Telehealth Summit this week with the goal of developing statewide coverage. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.
Telehealth connects a patient and a doctor using computer technology through the internet. It improves access to care and efficiency and is one of the top priorities for Department of Health Director, Dr. Ginny Pressler.
"We such incredible technology today. To me it’s not right for particularly elderly, disabled, frail or sick people to have to go to their doctor and have to get there and park; their family member who is taking them has the day off from work. It doesn’t have to be like that. I mean, there’s still some things that need to be done in a doctor’s office, face-to-face, but so much of what ‘s going on in healthcare today can be done using technology.”
Hawai’i law also requires health insurance plans and Medicaid to reimburse physicians for telehealth treatment at the same rate as an office visit. Emergency rooms on the Big Island and the Queens Medical Center on O’ahu are also connected. Jason Halsey, an accounts manager for telehealth equipment, says a base clinic computer costs about 15-thousand dollars and can be outfitted with other accessories.
“This here is a camera and right now it has a derm scope on the camera and you can do a dermatologyencounter remotely as well. We have a stethoscope you can connect to this and connect a UTC to it and you can connect other healthcare or medical peripherals to the device to transfer information from the patient side to the physician side.”
The Big Island is the most rural service area in the state. Dan Brinkman is Hawai’i Health Systems Corporation Regional CEO for East Hawai’i and Hilo Medical Center and Facilities. He says physician shortages in Hilo require patients to travel to O’ahu for treatment, which could ultimately impact the patient.
“For a lot of people they just don’t go. The barriers are too high. Or they don’t go frequently enough or oftentimes they can benefit from a specialist. And then in the long run, the costs are so much more because you’ve deferred the care and the management of your conditions until they got to a point where it is an emergency and that is just bad care all the way around.”
Telehealth is also beneficial for patients on O’ahu. Queen’s Medical Center director for telemedicine, Dr. Mathew Koenig, is a neurologist who has been treating acute stroke patients by telemedicine since 2011.
“Even at Queens on Punchbowl we have telemedicine in our own emergency rooms because if we’re not immediately on campus, we’re able to log on to that telemedicine equipment with a smart phone or computer and we’re able to see the patient right away rather than taking the time to drive into the hospital and park and walk into the hospital emergency room, we can just log on the computer and see the patient right away and that cuts the treatment time down.”
And, Health Director, Dr. Pressler, wants a fully connected telehealth system.
“We have about 15 percent of physicians right now who use telehealth in some capacity. It should be a hundred percent to make sure that telehealth is a statewide resource for everybody.”
For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.