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Queen’s West patients connect with families despite restrictions

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A new program in the age of COVID-19 that bars traditional patient visits at The Queen’s Medical Center West Oahu still allows friends and family to get Zoom updates and see their loved ones through donated iPads and tablets.

All of the patients at Queen’s West Oahu who have benefited since April are Oahu residents of all ages who are in the hospital for various conditions, but not COVID-19, who would normally be able to see limited numbers of visitors.

One male patient cried the first time he saw his family over Zoom, said Veronica Yosting, a Queen’s West Oahu intensive care nurse for eight years.

“Patients do better with family with them,” Yosting said. The iPads and tablets “keep everyone safe but still bridge that gap and help families and patients cope.”

Plans are underway to spread the concept — and 21 tablets donated to Queen’s West Oahu — to Kuakini Medical Center and other hospitals, including some on the neighbor islands.

With visits restricted because of the new coronavirus, internist Dr. Ali Chisti thought of using Zoom to allow Queen’s West Oahu patients, family and friends to see one another and get medical updates.

“I’ve never seen patients so alone,” Chisti said.

The virtual meetings are not nearly the same as in-person visits, but the benefits far outweigh any negatives, Christi said.

Everyone — including people on the neighbor islands and the mainland — can get updates in real time, he said. And the virtual visits tend to last about 30 minutes longer than usual, said Christi, who uses Zoom multiple times a day.

“I found myself in a new era of medicine,” he said. “The isolation is for all patients.”

The idea started when Chisti began asking friends and West Oahu staff for any old iPads, including a medical school friend in Portland, Ore., who bought Chisti 10 new Amazon Fire tablets and had them shipped to Oahu.

Chisti even ran down leads on strangers, who would sometimes meet him with caution.

“I drove around at the end of my shift to three spots in Kaimuki to meet friends of friends,” Chisti said. “It’s always sketchy for them.”

But Chisti assures donors that Queen’s technology staff will wipe their data and create secure ways for patients to use the devices.

“I made sure we had systems in place,” said Chisti, who is 34.

Using the refurbished devices also helps prevent hacking that might be more susceptible through patients’ unsecured devices, he said.

Thirty-four iPads and tablets later, Chisti hopes to donate 21 of them to other island hospitals.

“We have too many at West right now,” he said.

Nobuo Ishimaru, 94, of Waipahu had been seen at Queen’s West Oahu before, but could not have visitors when he had to stay in the ICU for three nights for a high fever beginning Monday.

“This time, we had to leave him,” said one of his daughters, Maizie Miyashiro of Mililani. “Being in the hospital is not his favorite thing … and English is not his first language.”

So when Chisti offered to update Ishimaru’s family Tuesday morning via Zoom, “he (Ishimaru) was very happy, especially seeing my mother on the screen,” Miyashiro said. “This helped to ease his mind, to at least see his family on the iPad.”

The first Zoom meeting during Ishimaru’s time in the hospital included Miyashiro, who was in Mili­lani, her mother and sister in Waipahu and another sister, who was home in West Loch.

Her father checked out Thursday and is now back home feeling better.

Miyashiro was excited to hear that other patients and family might be able to use the Zoom meetings in other Hawaii hospitals.

In addition to being grateful for the care her father received at Queen’s West Oahu, Miyashiro said, “I was also very pleasantly surprised by the technology that they were able to put in place.”

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