Health Care Providers Expand Telehealth Services Amid Pandemic
Hawai‘i’s top health care providers announced ways they have created more opportunities to provide Telehealth services to patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a press conference Thursday, leaders from HMSA, Kaiser Permanente, along with the University of Hawai‘i’s John A. Burns School of Medicine spoke about how Telehealth is being utilized across the state.
While there are 4,000 physicians practicing medicine on any given day in the state, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said, there are 9,000 physicians licensed to provide Telehealth.
“Right now, as you know, the world seems to have stopped, but our healthcare conditions continue,” Green said. “We want to make sure people stay alive. Emphasizing you have to social distance, but you cannot ignore other health conditions. This is why continuity of care is important.”
Telehealth is easy to use. Green advises always calling the health care provider first to ensure they provide the virtual service.
Matthew Koenig, a neurologist at Queen’s Medical Center and Medical Director for Telemedicine, said Telehealth is an important way to take care of patients, maintain continuity of care and ensure that no one is spreading COVID-19.
Not everything can be done by video Telehealth, however, Koenig said a lot of the cognitive, side effects and medication conversations can be done virtually.
Queen’s Medical Center has seen an increase in Telehealth appointments over the past few week. Koenig advises patients to contact their health care provide to ensure it’s appropriate to be seen by Telehealth.
Hawai‘i Medical Service Association and Kaiser Permanente continue their efforts to expand Telehealth to their patients.
Last month, Jennifer Diesman, Senior Vice President at HMSA, said they made a commitment to expand their coverage online for virtual visits through the new application, HMSA Online Care.
Approximately 900 new health care providers have been enrolled in the system, as well as over 400 mental health professionals available. During the pandemic, no co-pays are being charged.
At Kaiser Permanente, Telehealth has been part of their regular services, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve expanded.
“Telehealth is a safer way in providing health care,” said Sam Balukoff, Hospital Administrator, Kaiser Permanente.
Balukoff said 80% of clinic visits are done virtually. Kaiser also offers Telehealth in specialty medicine, with two-thirds of the those visits done virtually.
The University of Hawai‘i John A. Burns School of Medicine is also making efforts to address the public’s needs during this health crisis. The university hosts the Pacific Basin Telehealth Center, providing weekly Telehealth training.
Lee Buenconsejo-Lum, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at UH’s medical school, said they’ve also been enrolling training to long-term health care facilities.
On Thursday, Buenconsejo-Lum announced the rollout of a free online screening tool for those patients who don’t have a health care provider and have questions about the COVID-19 screening.
The self-triage portal can be found at COVIDhawaii.info.
Through the screening, individuals can be connected to a doctor within minutes. The portal is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The state has also worked to make sure some form of Telehealth is available for all patients insured through Med-Quest.
Judy Mohr Peterson, Med-QUEST Administrator and Hawaii State Medicaid Director, Hawai‘i Department of Human Services, said Quest provides health insurance for about a quarter of the state’s population.
“We serve some of the most vulnerable — people with low-income, people who are blind,” Peterson said. “It’s really vitally important to reduce as many barriers as possible during this pandemic.”
Many of the Medicare benificiaries, Peterson added, don’t have access to tools that would provide Telehealth. As a result, the state has been able to expand the services to telephone.