A Tale of Two Caregivers: Improving Access to Health Services in Rural Alaska

A Tale of Two Caregivers: Improving Access to Health Services in Rural Alaska

How Two Types of Caregivers are Using Technology to Improve Communication Between Remote Village Health Aides and Hospital Staff.

Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) serves a region of 30,000 people, providing access to health services through a network that includes a hospital and 50 clinics located in remote villages of southwest Alaska.

As part of Tribal Health Organizations, which carries requirements to qualify for government grants, YKHC faced challenges such as lack of timely communication across the Health System and difficulties collaborating with its numerous and disparately located network of remote clinics. By eliminating a large number of outdated pagers and implementing several of TigerConnect’s features, including role-based messaging, YKHC was able to streamline communication across the entire health system and improve access to health services for residents across southwest Alaska.

To illustrate YKHC’s phenomenal transformation, we wanted to take a look at the unique communication challenges from two specific caregivers within the organization. The community health aide that serves patients in the villages throughout southwest Alaska, and the chief of staff at the organization’s hospital in Bethel, Alaska. Each role faced unique challenges before the rollout of TigerConnect and benefited greatly after the solution implementation.

Key Takeaways:

  • YKHC dramatically improved communication across its 50 remote clinics, saving valuable time and money and improving patient outcomes.
  • Remote health aides in the communities 50 villages now benefit from easier access to specialists and physicians in the health corporation’s main hospital in Bethel.
  • The chief of staff in Bethel is now able to more easily triage incoming communication from hospital staff and village clinics and more effectively manage her many duties.


Caregiver #1 – Community Health Aides

Helping Remote Health Aides in Rural Alaska Serve Patients

YKHC has a network of about 50 different clinics that provide basic care in the villages; overseeing these clinics are community health aides. While these community health aides are able to provide basic care in the villages, more complex procedures require a patient to go to Bethel or even Anchorage. To cut down on costly transports and improve patient outcomes, it’s important for the community health aides in the village to communicate effectively with hospital staff and specialists in Bethel.

Before TigerConnect, community health aides would call an operator, the operator would look at an excel spreadsheet to find out who was on call, they would call the provider and try to get them on the phone, or leave a voicemail with the phone number of the community health aid in the village to call back. This process often involved the community health aide sitting on hold while the patient was waiting, or the call would simply get lost in voicemail oblivion.

Critical information, such as the appropriate medications, or if a patient needed to be transferred, was being delayed or completely lost. Implementing TigerConnect helped YKHC achieve a seamless, real-time, successful communication between community health aides and hospital staff and specialists in Bethel. Easier access to healthcare professionals saved valuable time and money, improving patient outcomes, enabling YKHC staff to:

  • More easily contact specialists and physicians in Bethel, Alaska – With TigerConnect, village community health aides can more easily contact providers directly if they need higher-level help with a patient. They don’t even have to know who the provider is or who’s on call at the time, they simply select the role they are looking to communicate with and message them.
  • Reduce costly transports to Bethel or Anchorage – With TigerConnect, being heavily utilized in the villages, it is now easier to evaluate the necessity of a medevac to Bethel or Anchorage. In many cases, remote access to specialists and the ability to share photos, the patient can be treated in the village or can travel commercially, saving hefty transport costs.
  • Automate scheduling to make it easy to find the right person, at the right time – With providers all across the region, the fact that YKHC’s scheduling solution is integrated with TigerConnect makes it much easier for a health aide in a village to contact the right person. TigerConnect ensures providers are automatically placed into roles, which means the right text message goes to the right person at the right time.

TWEET THIS: TigerConnect is helping remote health aides in rural Alaska better Serve patients


Caregiver #2 – MD, Chief of Staff

Helping the Chief of Staff Juggle Multiple Responsibilities

Dr. Ellen Hodges, MD, Chief of Staff, wears a lot of hats at YKHC, but can often be found in the emergency department, helping wherever she is needed. She is the clinical on-call director, high-risk obstetrics on-call, she also covers for the hospital administrator on-call, and occasionally she is the health aide provider on-call for the in-patient unit. Prior to using TigerConnect, Dr. Hodges recalls the alphanumeric black plastic box pages.

“I would carry up to five pagers depending on how many roles I was assuming at the hospital at the same time,” Dr. Hodges recalls. She even remembers a time when she ran over a pager with her car. “It didn’t work and nobody could get a hold of me until I drove to the hospital to get IT to reprogram a new one.”

Today, Dr. Hodges is pager-free and enjoys several benefits from TigerConnect, including:

  • Transferring her on-call role with a few taps on her smartphone – For Dr. Hodges, TigerConnect has made a huge difference. For instance, if Dr. Hodges is pulled into an emergency situation with a patient, she can easily designate another colleague as the person responsible for her on-call role while she is unavailable. This way, everyone else in the hospital knows who’s responsible.
  • Requesting a consult is a breeze – It is now much easier for Dr. Hodges to get a consult from a specialist in another region. She recalled a case where they were evaluating a patient in the ER for transfer to Anchorage. With TigerConnect, Dr. Hodges was able to send a text with her questions to the on-call neurosurgeon who texted her back almost immediately with a few suggestions for some additional tests to order. They had a phone conversation about an hour later and were able to stabilize the patient.
  • On-call duty becomes less of an interruption – As a clinical on-call director and the OB on call, Dr. Hodges is also on the receiving end of calls from the hospital and noted that with TigerConnect, a text from the hospital is much less of an interruption. The hospital team can easily message Dr. Hodges a question, including the patient’s medical record, any photographs if necessary, and she can provide better advice.

TWEET THIS: TigerConnect is helping a rural doctor more easily manage a myriad of responsibilities


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