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Tuesday, March 28, 2000

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Dr. James Barahal examines visitor Ed Gage of
Greeley, Colo., at the new clinic in the Sheraton
Princess Kaiulani Hotel.

Still making
house calls

Dr. James Barahal and his
medical team treat tourists at
six clinics or in their hotel rooms

By Helen Altonn


THE young doctor had just finished his medical residency at the University of Hawaii and decided to start doing house calls.

"I was kind of trying to find a niche and not be too traditional," said Dr. James Barahal.

Since he began traveling around the island in September 1981, charging $40 per house call, his "niche" has grown to include a string of clinics in Waikiki hotels.

They're part of Straub Doctors on Call, which Barahal, now 47, founded and merged with Straub Clinic & Hospital in 1986.

The main clinic, which previously occupied 500 square feet in the Bank of Hawaii building in Waikiki, moved in mid-January to the lobby level of the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel.

Open house was held Friday for the new 4,500-square-foot clinic, which has a cheerful decor that blends well with the rest of the hotel.

Ed Gage, 30, of Greeley, Colo., was among patients watching the ceremony and a Hawaiian blessing by the Rev. Nathan Kohashi, Straub chaplain.

"Doctors on Call is making a difference," Kohashi said, describing the staff's compassion and care. "The work you do here transcends what you see here. It makes a difference when you are ill in a strange place."

Gage, who was in Hawaii on business, thought he had strep throat and was referred to the clinic by his hotel.

"This is fantastic, very inspirational," he said after the program. He said he felt "spiritually better," even before seeing a doctor.

"What have you got?" joked Barahal, dispensing humor with medicine as he examined Gage and confirmed the self-diagnosis.

Straub Doctors On Call's services are far more extensive and sophisticated than medical director Barahal could offer from his black bag in the 1980s.

Nevertheless, his practice grew from three house calls the first week to three a day.

He said he told a friend if he could do 20 house calls a week, that would be great. He actually got up to 32 in one day.

Noticing more calls from hotels, he put an office in the Hyatt Regency in the summer of 1982.

Another doctor joined him and they became "very entrepreneurial," riding mopeds around Waikiki to call on hotel patients, he said. "It was a great way to get around."

Their first receptionist in 1982 spoke Japanese, although "the market was not that big," he said. They had one Japanese patient every three days at that time, but "it was going in that direction," he said.

They saw 16,000 Japanese patients one year and are still seeing 14,000 to 15,000 yearly, he said.

As they built their on-call practice up to 32,000 to 35,000 patients a year, Barahal said it made sense to join with Straub to provide a higher level of care to those needing it.

About 65 percent of patients are visitors, the rest, residents, he said.

The trend is toward older and sicker patients, who need a higher level of diagnostic services, Barahal said. "This facility is convenient and in step with what we really need to be doing."

The main clinic is open 24 hours, seven days a week, with free van service for people too sick to walk or who need specialized services at Straub. The van goes to the other On-Call clinics at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Hyatt Regency, Hawaiian Regent and Kahala Mandarin Oriental.

The six clinics are operated by 40 bilingual staff members and 20 doctors, many part-time.

The new clinic has six exam rooms and a full range of physician, laboratory, X-ray, pharmacy and occupational health services.

"Straub is good about enabling us to be a little hospital within a hospital," said Barahal.

And the doctors still make house calls, which is a good training ground, he said.

"The fact that I did probably 1,000 house calls is a good crucible," said Barahal, who for 13 years has also headed the the Honolulu Marathon Association.

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