Mobile Clinic Offers Accessible Medical Services
By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor
A new, mobile clinic, launched by the Molokai Community Health Center, will help increase access to telehealth services for Molokai residents with no internet, lack of mobility or other access challenges.
The Mana Mobile Medical Clinic has an exam room, a restroom, vaccine refrigeration, a blood draw station and other medical integration. The clinic also has the technology and equipment to connect patients virtually through video appointments to off-island specialists – something MCHC CEO Helen Kekalia Wescoatt said became especially important during the pandemic.
“At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare providers across the nation quickly adopted or expanded telehealth into the primary care setting, many for the first time ever,” she explained, via email. “Although many of us championed this movement toward technology, we quickly discovered that in rural and/or medically underserved communities, telehealth not only did NOT provide the access we imagined it would, but that in some cases, with some groups of the population, it actually broadened the health inequities that already existed prior to the pandemic.”
She said on Molokai, they noticed a variety of reasons the telehealth model did not work well in some cases. Some patients didn’t have camera-enabled devices to allow them to participate in telehealth appointments, some patients didn’t know how to use the video app, others didn’t have internet or had poor internet connectively, and some simply didn’t want to use telehealth as a way to get healthcare.
Yet as the community moves past the pandemic, telehealth remains a valuable option to connect patients on Molokai with off-island specialists without requiring cumbersome travel, which is already made more difficult by the presence of only one air carrier.
“We took this opportunity to re-imagine health care and technology utilization and relationship – we wanted to find a way to address the current needs of the pandemic and also move towards the utilization of greater access to care through technology – all while also taking into considerations the real day to day struggles of our patients, their desire to still conduct a face-to-face visit, as well as address economic drivers that affect access such as not having a car to get to their medical or dental appointment,” said Wescoatt.
MCHC staff felt that having a way to take a trained team of medical professionals, equipped with internet services and telehealth facilities, to patients’ doorsteps would be the best way to bridge the gap.
The mobile clinic will be staffed by a mobile health team that includes a physician, registered nurse and one community health care worker. Onboard services will include preventative health screenings, all primary care services including acute care and chronic disease management, vaccine administration and health education.
Wescoatt said specialty care providers they plan to focus on connecting patients with include dermatology and cardiology, two areas of the highest volume of referrals MCHC staffs see in the main clinic.
The Mana Mobile Medical Clinic launched on June 20, costing about $180,000, which was made possible by a private donor in partnership with Hawaii Community Foundation, according to Wescoatt.
For now, the mobile unit will be open on Mondays in Maunaloa at the town’s community center between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Appointments are encouraged but walk-ins are welcome.
In the future, the mobile clinic will expand to other areas “where distance to our clinic and transportation and broadband connectivity are challenges to accessing health care,” said Wescoatt, such as East Molokai and central areas like Ho’olehua and Kualapu’u.