Alaska's Traveling Patients: Seeking specialized healthcare in the Pacific Northwest.

Author:Lavrakas, Dimitra
Position:Pacific Northwest

Hospitals in urban and rural areas, telemedicine, and rural clinics with modern technology where previously none existed have made 21st century healthcare more accessible for Alaskans than ever before. But Alaskans still may need to travel Outside for specialized treatment, and often those travels lead to the Pacific Northwest.

Why Travel Out of State?

While healthcare facilities would prefer to keep patients close to home, a lack of specialists and sudden emergencies sometimes require specialized care.

"We encourage people to stay in-state when receiving care in case complications arise once they return home because follow up care can be provided close to home and patients' support systems are here at home," says Kjerstin Lastufka, communications director for Alaska Regional Hospital.

Riley Little, business development specialist with Guardian Flight, an emergency air transport for patients, agrees with Lastufka, saying that removing patients from their support system is a troubling trend.

"This has a huge impact because you're taking patients away from their community, support network, etc.," Little says.

Even so, Little understands there are numerous reasons patients might choose to go elsewhere for treatment.

"The reason we transport people from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest is for medical care and treatment that cannot be [provided] in Alaska," Little says. "Examples include burns and some neurological and cardiac conditions."

Margaret Brodie, director of Health Care Services for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, concurs with Little.

"Medicaid recipients go to the Pacific Northwest to see specialists that do not exist in Alaska," Brodie says. "We send them to the closest location of the type of specialist that can meet their needs. Approximately sixty recipients are sent to Seattle, Washington, each month."

Brodie says there are no specific illnesses that cause Alaskans to go elsewhere for treatment.

"They are for specialists for whatever condition that the individual has. These special-include transplants, typically heart or kidney; third degree or higher burns; pediatric or complicated neurologic conditions; pediatric or complicated cancers; pediatric and complicated cardiology conditions; internal medicine; or urology.

Susan Gregg, director of media relations for Harborview Medical Center at the University of Washington Medicine (UW Medicine), says patients from Alaska often travel to major centers in Seattle...

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