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The University of Hawaiʻi continues to play a key role in the expansion of telehealth care during a critical time, especially as healthcare providers rethink the way they deliver care with the COVID-19 pandemic.

While larger healthcare organizations were able to quickly adapt to telehealth, Hawaiʻi’s community health centers—federally qualified health centers—serving the state’s vulnerable populations, needed to get up to speed. Patients who receive care at these centers pay for their care on a sliding scale discount, depending upon their household incomes.

UH Mānoa’s Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and the UH Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center (PBTRC), in collaboration with the Department of Health (DOH), played a key role in providing the necessary policy guidance and technical support for community health centers to take advantage of new federal telehealth reimbursement policies. This has included weekly webinars on the basics of telehealth for providers.

“With our extensive network of telehealth resources prior to the public health emergency, we were able to mobilize the support needed for advancing telehealth in our community, helping our most vulnerable populations,” said PBTRC Co-Director Christina Higa. “We really appreciate the partnership and will continue to work through the transition to our new normal, which will certainly include continued use of telehealth in healthcare.”

State and federal telehealth grants totaling $670,000 aided UH and the DOH to provide vital support to community health centers statewide, including:

  • Hāmākua Health Center (Hawaiʻi Island)
  • Kaʻū Rural Health Community Association, Inc. (a community-based nonprofit organization in Pāhala on Hawaiʻi Island)
  • Lānaʻi Community Health Center (Lānaʻi)
  • Hoʻola Lāhui Hawaiʻi (Kauaʻi)
  • Wahiawā Health Center (Oʻahu)
  • Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center (Oʻahu)
  • Kōkua Kalihi Valley (Oʻahu)
  • UH Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine—Area Health Education Center

In addition to primary care, patients have been able to access behavioral healthcare services and COVID-19 screening via Hawaiʻi UTelehealth. The screening tools were developed by JABSOM in collaboration with PBTRC. Other partners include University Health Partners of Hawaiʻi and DOH.

“Through Hawaiʻi UTelehealth, we are hoping to reach the patients without insurance, without a provider, or outside of the reach of the usual healthcare system,” said Kelley Withy, AHEC Director.

AHEC in the John A. Burns School of Medicine aims to improve the health of the underserved through education, focusing on recruitment, health and workforce needs assessments, and improving distance learning and telehealth utilization.

Since 2010, PBTRC in the College of Social Sciences has been advocating for telehealth. The center has been essential in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as the demands for screening, testing and safe healthcare continue to skyrocket.

Learn more about telehealth in Hawaiʻi.

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