Crossing the distance, virtually

  • Photo by Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Licensed practical nurse Tammy Wells looks at dialogue provided by Troy Hoskin, right, while practicing a telehealth medical check up at the East Hawaii Health Clinic in Hilo on Thursday, May 28, 2020. Doctors and nurses are practicing working with patients outside of clinics.

Hilo Medical Center has provided online or “virtual” health care for some emergency situations, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for long-distance checkups.

“We have put telehealth to use on some levels of health care and have decided to start implementing the process to all of our network of clinics,” Elena Cabatu, spokeswoman for Hilo Medical Center, said.

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Chris Takahashi, director of electronic health records for HMC, along with management analyst Troy Hoskin, have been teaching doctors and nurses how to use a new telehealth system.

“We’ve been using virtual health care to see some patients for while, but when the pandemic hit, we realized the real need for it,” Takahashi said. “Our goal is to make sure our patients are getting the same service as they would in person.”

On Thursday, Dr. Lovina Sabnani and a crew of medical professionals at the East Hawaii Health Center trained to see patients over the computer using a new, efficient telehealth system.

Licensed practical nurse Tammy Wells practiced working with fake patients virtually under the guidance of Hoskin and clinical analyst Amy Hudman.

“Once everyone gets used to the system, telehealth will work exactly like an in-person appointment,” Takahashi said. “Doctors and nurses will be able to recommend the same treatments, answer the same questions, and continue having the same relationship with patients.”

Although this would not work for every patient, there are many who can benefit from telehealth.

Patients will be screened to see if they would be a good candidate for virtual health care and will be called to see if they would prefer a telehealth appointment, Takahashi said.

Patients will be sent a link to an online waiting room and then be connected to a nurse and their physician via webcam.

After that, online appointments will work exactly like an in-person appointment.

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“Sometimes it’s hard to get yourself to the doctor, and if you can log on the computer for a quick checkup, that will help a lot of people,” Takahashi said.

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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