The mobile clinic offers accessible medical services

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

Photo courtesy of MCHC.

A new mobile clinic, launched by Molokai Community Health Center, will help increase access to telehealth services for Molokai residents without internet, mobility or other access issues.

Mana Mobile Medical Clinic has an examination room, restrooms, vaccine refrigeration, blood collection station, and other medical integrations. The clinic also has the technology and equipment to virtually connect patients through video appointments to off-island specialists – which MCHC CEO Helen Kekalia Wescoatt says has become particularly important during the pandemic.

“During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, health care providers across the country quickly adopted or expanded telehealth into primary care settings, often for the first time,” she explained by E-mail. “While many of us championed this move towards technology, we quickly discovered that in rural and/or medically underserved communities, telehealth not only did NOT provide the access we imagined, but in some cases, with some population groups, it actually widened health inequalities that already existed before the pandemic.

Photo courtesy of MCHC.

She said on Molokai, they noticed a variety of reasons why the telehealth model wasn’t working well in some cases. Some patients did not have camera devices to enable them to attend telehealth appointments, some patients did not know how to use the video app, others did not have internet or had a poor internet connection , and some simply did not. want to use telehealth as a way to get health care.

Yet as the community outgrows the pandemic, telehealth remains a valuable option for connecting Molokai patients to off-island specialists without requiring tedious travel, which is already made more difficult by the presence of a single air carrier.

“We took this opportunity to reinvent the use and relationship between health care and technology – we wanted to find a way to meet the current needs of the pandemic and also evolve towards the use of better access to care through technology – while taking into account the real day-to-day struggles of our patients, their desire to continue to make an in-person visit, as well as the economic drivers that affect access, such as not having a car to get to their medical or dental appointment,” Wescoatt said.

MCHC staff felt that having a way to bring a trained team of healthcare 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 consisting of a doctor, a registered nurse and a community health worker. Onboard services will include preventative health screenings, all primary care services including acute care and chronic disease management, vaccine administration and health education.

Photo courtesy of MCHC.

Wescoatt said specialty care providers plan to focus on connecting patients with dermatology and cardiology in particular, two areas with the most referrals MCHC staff see in the main clinic.

Mana’s mobile medical clinic was launched on June 20, at a cost of about $180,000, made possible by a private donor in partnership with the Hawaii Community Foundation, according to Wescoatt.

For now, the mobile unit will be open 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.

Going forward, the mobile clinic will expand to other areas “where distance to our clinic and transportation and broadband connectivity are challenges to accessing healthcare,” Wescoatt said, such as East Molokai and central areas like Ho’olehua and Kualapu’u.

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