Close Communities from Far Away: How Keānuenue Pediatrics Fights for the Underdog
Dr. Jasmine Waipa founded Keānuenue Pediatrics in Honolulu, Hawai`i, in October of 2020, with a focus on addressing the health disparities that affect Native Hawaiians.
In the fall of 2021, the practice welcomed Dr. Courtney Taum as their third pediatrician. Their office, located in what is known as “town,” or downtown Honolulu, serves a high volume of Native Hawaiian patients and patients from underserved communities, which allows Dr. Waipa’s colleagues to fulfill their obligations as Native Hawaiian Scholars.
“Even though we’re a private practice, we have such a high representation of both Medicaid and Native Hawaiian patients that we qualify for [Drs. Taum and Honda] to work off their service, too,” says Dr. Waipa.
One goal as the practice continues to grow is to use technology to its fullest potential while not losing sight of the important personal connections with families.
“When I was envisioning the practice, I wanted it to be this dichotomy,” she says. “I wanted a very modern, tech-forward [focus], leveraging technology so that our patients could have resources and information. That was one piece of it. The other piece of it was maybe a little bit more old-fashioned. I wanted our patients to feel every time they walked into the office like they were going to visit their favorite auntie, that everybody was very warm and inviting. We know your name. We’re genuinely happy to see you and to catch up. In Hawai`i, we call it ‘talk story.’ So we want to talk story. We want to share what’s been going on since the last time we saw each other.”
With Dr. Waipa’s patient panel numbering about 1,500, and Dr. Honda’s at about 300 and steadily growing, the pair has been getting to know the diverse needs of the community. The several military bases in the area means that Keānuenue Pediatrics also serves families who come to Hawai`i with an exit date set.
“We understand going into it that they’re temporary, that we’ll get to see them for this three-year stretch and then they’ll have to leave us,” she says. “[It does] get hard because we get attached to our patients.”
Many local families live in multigenerational households, which is not only a function of culture and tradition, but also sometimes stems from a need to make ends meet.
“It’s really common for family members or extended family members to provide the childcare while parents are working,” she says. “The cost of living in Hawai`i is a bit outrageous, so it’s not uncommon for parents to have to work more than one job.”
Even though [at the publishing date of this article] the practice is not even one year old, and was founded in the midst of a global pandemic, Dr. Waipa is happy with how their patient volume continues to increase.
“We’ve been really lucky,” she says. “I think that we’ve been growing organically by word of mouth. Even though there are a million people that live here, it’s very much a small town kind of feel.”
They’ve also leveraged technology to advertise their practice by setting up a service that sends patients a text shortly after an office visit, asking them to review the practice online.
“When I put my business hat on and thought about the way that patients would find us, it made sense,” she says. “It’s been paying off, and the patients are typically more than happy to press the button that says five stars.”
Dr. Waipa is hopeful that as Dr. Taum gets established and builds her patient panel, she’ll be able to take a step back from the day-to-day activities and focus more on some of the long-term goals for the practice.
“The biggest challenge lately has been figuring out the balance between what we do day in and day out…with all of these much bigger, more meta issues that we also are passionate about,” she says.
A resident of Burlington, VT, Erin Post has a BA degree in English from Hamilton College, and is a graduate of the writing program at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She is currently working on her master’s in public health at the University of Vermont. In her spare time, she likes to bike, ski, hike, and generally enjoy the Green Mountains of Vermont.