Capstone brings telemedicine Downtown
A health clinic in downtown Anchorage, at the heart of the 5th Avenue Mall, may seem an unlikely sight at first glance amid the Christmas tinsel.
Near the giant JC Penney department store, Capstone Express is right where it’s needed most, said Dr. Wade Erickson, the doctor who opened it.
Downtown is filled with people working in offices, shops and restaurants, or living in condos, homes or mixed-use developments. Not to mention the thousands of tourists who pack the streets in the summer.
But there is no health clinic to serve them in a pinch.
“The new telemedicine clinic affords tourists, mall employees, downtown workers, and shoppers of all ages the benefit of fast, effective treatment in a location where there are no other viable medical service options within the central city grid,” said Erickson, the physician who started the Capstone Family Medicine in Wasilla in 2003.
Staffed by a medical assistant and a receptionist, the location ties in via video streaming with Capstone’s Boniface Parkway clinic in Anchorage. A physician reached remotely via video and other medical equipment linkups can diagnose an illness that acts as the first line of defense.
“A lot can be done there, but it is all minor,” Erickson said. “The beauty of it is that the majority of things that can be done with telemedicine are things people don’t want to spend a lot of money on: Looking at whether a cold is pneumonia or the flu. Seasickness patches. Minor illnesses that impact their trip; forgotten prescriptions.”
Once a patient is seen and diagnosed, they might be sent on their way with the question answered and medicine acquired, or might require more follow-up at the Boniface clinic.
The 650-square foot clinic is open during mall hours and comes equipped with a small pharmacy of medicines that would be prescribed for an array of illnesses. No appointment is necessary.
Erickson said he’s waited for more than 10 years for bandwidth to increase for telemedicine to stream sufficiently. And he’s waited for the cost of telemedicine to go down through GCI and other telecom’s expanded rural infrastructure.
“Now that has happened,” he said.
Clinics throughout rural Alaska already hook into hospitals and larger health centers through telemedicine in the Indian Health Service. But no such options yet exist for remote lodges in Alaska that see heavy tourist traffic, or for general population individuals living rural wilderness lifestyles, he noted.
Using this model, Capstone can further expand this service to remote parts of the state. But first Erickson is starting with getting out the word — and examples of how it works — before the public eye in Anchorage.
Next stop: a Dimond Center clinic and kiosk is expected to open in spring 2018.
To get the word out, Erickson said they’ve put up a telemedicine display at the Capstone Boniface clinic to educate patients.
“We’ve been telling hotels, giving out brochures they can put in their hotel packets, and let the cruise industry know,” Erickson said. “Downtown retailers know. We’ve been doing this by hand, going around to individual businesses in the central grid area.”
The vision of serving remote locations will be on exhibit through the Downtown location.
“You want to have better access to health care, to help figure out whether a person should be medevaced or shipped back to Anchorage by interacting with a physician to figure out how best to treat the person,” Erickson added.
The Capstone Family Medical Centers can help individuals access the software for a stethoscope and video camera that interface with the Captstone system. The cost savings from avoiding an emergency trip out of a remote location alone would pay the cost of equipment, he said.
On the other end, physicians are on call 24-7.
Ultimately, telemedicine also has options for individual parents in Anchorage and for the Anchorage School District. If a child is frequently asthmatic or suffers chronic ear problems, for just two examples, the first line of defense could occur from the comfort of home or the school nurses’ office to save a trip to the doctor, Erickson said.
Using an otoscope on location, a remote physician can listen to the child’s lungs.
In the Lower 48, telemedicine is practiced in several new examples. Erickson once saw a clinic in a Target store and other malls.
“I was really looking forward to bringing this model to Alaska,” he said.
Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].