Puna Town Hall Meeting Addresses Telehealth, Broadband
With a massive physician shortage statewide, officials are looking to the technology of Telehealth to care for Hawai‘i’s rural communities.
During a town hall meeting Saturday at Hawaiian Paradise Park Activity Center in Puna, Rep. Joy A. San Buenaventura met with constituents about the growing practice of Telehealth as well as broadband issues in their rural community.
San Buenaventura, who represents the Puna area, hosted the meeting where she invited invited experts to talk with dozens of people about Telehealth and broadband. Speakers included members from the Department of Health, Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center, Hilo Medical Center, as well as Spectrum and Hawaiian Telecom.
“A lot of people don’t realize how pervasive Telehealth has become,” San Buenaventura said.
Despite the growing use of the technology, the representative said, the Big Island has the worst shortage of medical doctors. Many people in the audience confirmed they travel to O‘ahu to see a physician.
“In order to have Telehealth, you have to have broadband,” San Buenaventura added.
Laura Arcibal, statewide Telehealth coordinator with the Hawai‘i Department of Health, said Telehealth provides remote patient monitoring, mobile health and live video conferencing on a secure network.
“We know in Hawaii we’re facing a severe physician shortage,” Arcibal said. “We’re looking for 800 physicians statewide.”
Arcibal said the delivery of health care services is through broadband services. Currently the Department of Health is looking to establish an advisory consul for Telehealth.
“The convenience of Telehealth is patients can connect with them (physicians) anywhere,” Arcibal said. “With Telehealth, you could have the interaction from the comfort of your home.”
Telehealth saves money and time and provides endless opportunities. The challenges with providing the system to rural communities, she added, is Hawai‘i has an aging rural structure when it comes to broadband services.
Christina Higa, co-director of Pacific Basin Tele-Health Resource Center, also spoke at the meeting. She thought her visit to the Big Island was productive because it allowed her to make contact with providers who do Telehealth.
Currently, Higa said, 20.5% of providers have adopted the Telehealth service statewide.
“Some people are saying they aren’t getting paid,” Higa said of those providers who offer the service on the Big Island. “I’m getting more information to follow up on.”
After the meeting, HPP resident thought Tara Kanakaole-Lato’s biggest concern was the affordable access to Telehealth.
Kanakaole-Lato thought the town hall meeting was successful in that lawmakers recognize the need for affordable internet. However, she questioned if cable and internet providers really had the customers’ interest in mind.
“Why should my internet and cable bill exceed my electric bill?” She questioned. “We don’t have the population in our district to make demands.”
At the very least, Kanakaole-Lato said, said there should be a central location in the community where children can access the internet for educational purposes as well as to see a doctor.
San Buenaventura’s goal of the town hall meeting was to let her constituents know she was listening to their concerns.
“People were letting us know they were being short-changed physicians,” the representative said.
San Buenaventura said the meeting was a success because it allowed her constituents to vent their concerns.
“It was also successful in that we’re not ignoring their concerns,” San Buenaventura said.
San Buenaventura has recognizes the issues with broadband and the legislature is looking at how to help the rural communities in this issue.
Sen. Kai Kahele introduced a bill that would establish the broadband infrastructure grant program to award
grants to applicants to extend deployment of infrastructure used to provide broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the State.