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PBTRC Hosts U.S. Affiliated Pacific Island Countries & Territories To Focus On Tangible Telehealth Goals To Expand Health Access

The Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center (PBTRC) hosted the 2022 U.S. Affiliated Pacific Island Countries & Territories (USAPICT) Telehealth Workshop from August 15 – 17 at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, with participants from American Samoa, Chuuk, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Palau. Travel remains restricted for a number of USAPI who were unable to join in person due to COVID-19. 

The 2022 USAPICT Telehealth Workshop is a sequel to the 2016 USAPI Telehealth Champion Building and Planning Workshop which focused on fostering a critical mass of stakeholders and telehealth champions in the USAPI. Like other sectors steering towards a post-pandemic norm, the 3-day workshop focused on reconnecting, resetting, reengaging, and rebuilding a way forward for accessing health care and services through telehealth in the Pacific. “Telehealth is a new norm in healthcare; together we have to navigate these changes, opportunities, share lessons, resources and information, and focus on low hanging fruit and and keep the momentum going, ” said Dr. Christina Higa, Co-Director of PBTRC. 

Representatives from public hospitals and health agencies in the USAPI were joined by technical specialists and subject matter experts to engage in rooted discussions about the successes, needs and opportunities in telehealth; develop goals and objectives for short-, medium- and long-term initiatives; receive hands-on training on technology; learn various models and modalities for service delivery; recap policy and legislation needs; and hear examples of innovative telehealth programs during and post-pandemic. Various success stories were shared including the Guam Memorial Hospital Authority (GMHA) tele-Intensive Care Unit (ICU) connecting off-island intensivists for around-the-clock care and provider-to-provider consultation through the Swinfen Telemedicine Network for the Kosrae Community Health Center. 

A key objective of the workshop was for hospitals and public health sectors to jointly identify projects and ready-to-go initiatives within their healthcare system. Many participants recognized the need for intra- and inter-island consultations between their local hospital and clinics including VA clinics, in addition to off-island consults, referrals and specialty care. Dr. Toby Maurer, internationally renowned expert in HIV dermatology and infectious diseases and Professor of Dermatology at Indiana State University, demonstrated the value of telehealth to treating dermatological cases and is looking forward to collaborating with the USAPI through telehealth. The Department of Veterans Affairs provided an update on telehealth opportunities in the islands and the Tripler Army Medical Center presented a new menu for in person procedures, training and telehealth service potential for the region.  

Another objective of the 2022 USAPICT Telehealth Workshop was to provide brief hands-on training of various technologies available for telehealth at the Translational Health Science Simulation Center (THSSC) at the Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing (NAWSON). Critical to the success and sustainability of telehealth programs are the right combination of technologies and broadband infrastructure to support the needs for delivery.  Also discussed was the need to build pathways for information exchange to ensure the continuity of care coordination. 

The use of telehealth involves an engaged healthcare community at all levels to ensure buy-in and support not just of healthcare leadership, but of the whole community. Participant reflections echoed that the workshop was an opportunity to redefine and propose cultural elements and contextualization of telehealth to fit Pacific Island settings. More than ever, telehealth is seen as an essential part of health access and equity.

PBTRC would like to acknowledge and thank all stakeholders, SMEs, for your valuable contributions to the 2022 USAPICT Telehealth Workshop.