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Dr. Jet Ski and Mr. Tide: Meet Japan’s Island-Hopping Physician

It is just after dawn and Dr. Keigo Yasukawa is already out on the water. His jet ski slices through ocean swells as a pristine morning settles over the Pacific Ocean. “When I’m on my jet ski out in the ocean I really feel a sense of liberation,” says Yasukawa. “It makes me feel free.”

It could be a snapshot from an exhilarating vacation, but the good doctor is not on a holiday. Instead, he uses his personal watercraft to hop from island to island in Japan’s southernmost Okinawa prefecture, making house calls to remote island communities.

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Yasukawa runs the Dr. GON clinic, which provides care to many elderly residents in Miyakojima island, population 54,000. The island sits some 200 miles due east of the northern tip of Taiwan and Yasukawa, who was born on Miyakojima, is a familiar face there.

After docking his jet ski, he climbs up a low cliff and makes his way through the town, knocking on people’s doors and checking on their health. For many of them, it’s a welcome visit. “To go to the hospital, I have to change clothes, call for an assistant to help me and everything else,” says one patient. “It ends up taking a full day.”

Seeing the demand for care on Miyakojima got Yasukawa thinking about the hundreds of islands in his prefecture. “Making these trips, I began to realize that there were also patients on the other small islands nearby, and I began to go visit them, too,” he says.

Soon, he hired other jet ski doctors who now visit even more remote islands like Okamijima, population 50, where physicians might make 20 house calls a day on a visit.

Yasukawa travels equipped with portable technology like GE’s Vscan. The pocket-sized ultrasound machine weighs less than one pound and enables users to see internal organs, heart valve function or image a pregnant woman’s womb. Doctors carry the Vscan in small waterproof bags, along with other technology that is used throughout the hospital (see video).

Yasukawa’s patients don’t take his visits for granted and he has become a local celebrity. “On this island, Dr. Yasukawa is simply the best,” says a patient. “He’s larger than life to us.”

Disclaimer:  Vscan has no protection from fluids and must be kept dry.

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