For those of us living in the ‘lower 48,’ it may be hard to comprehend daily life in the great state of Alaska. With its diverse terrain, seemingly endless mountains and forests, and abundant wildlife, it certainly earns its nickname as “The Last Frontier.”
In much of the state, expansive wilderness and sparsely populated regions are the norms. This means the barriers to healthcare are much higher, and care providers and allied health professionals have their work cut out for them each and every day. And while many other states have more than 100 acute care hospitals, you might be surprised to learn that Alaska has just 27 for more than 739,000 residents1.
The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), a non-profit health network, has a mission to work in partnership with the native people of Southeast Alaska to provide the best healthcare for their communities. Founded in 1975, SEARHC is one of the oldest and largest Native-run health organizations in the nation. For more than 40 years, SEARHC has provided high-quality healthcare services and improved the quality of life for 28 communities, accounting for more than 200,000 patient visits.
The remote nature of SEARHC’s care communities, tertiary hospitals and clinics, and staff all over Southeast Alaska presents its own set of challenges to communicate with specialists and medical peers at its other facilities.
As a critical access hospital, resources, in general, are spread thin. To provide added support to SEARHC’s care teams, locum providers are often introduced into various care facilities. A key challenge for these providers, who don’t always work at the same care facility, is that they may not always know the individuals that work in specific roles within the hospital. For instance, they may need to get ahold of the on-call cardiologist, but they don’t know the physician’s name, contact information, or what they even look like. Obviously, this can cause delays in patient care, especially in a facility as large and maze-like as a hospital.
And then there are the patients themselves. For those living in rural communities that are only accessible by boat or floatplane, and are subject to unpredictable weather, regular trips to their primary care physician are much more involved than you would expect. For the individuals that end up needing immediate medical attention, transportation to their closest hospital can turn into a logistical nightmare. That’s where the medical evacuation (medevac) comes in. The fastest way from point A to point B for SEARHC patients is by helicopter, and these rides can cost upwards of $80,000 each. Being able to determine if a medevac is necessary in the first place is critical, and can literally mean the difference between life and death for the patient.
TigerConnect initially provided SEARHC with a HIPAA-compliant messaging solution and replaced pagers as well as other legacy technology. Later, Automated Persona Management (Roles), Click to Call, Calendar Views and Advanced Data and Analytics were implemented in an effort to help streamline workflows in a number of departments.
SEARHC’S organization-wide adoption of TigerConnect has made it a more effective, efficient, and tight-knit healthcare community overall. Not just between the distant facilities, but within the care teams themselves. Both in-house and locum staff have seen first-hand the improved care, coordination, and collaboration across the entire health system.
Through role-based scheduling, there’s no more wasting time trying to figure out where another care provider is, how to contact them, or who is on call. Dr. Cate Buley explains the improvement in contacting a specialist, saying, “When we’re in the hospital, we’re able to get a hold of specialists that we don’t have available locally in Juneau. Juneau is a town of 30,000 people. So, I can TigerConnect with the intensive care doctor, the pulmonologist, the cardiologist, infectious disease doctor who may be able to give me some recommendations.”
TigerConnect also improved the medevac coordination process and gave SEARHC providers the ability to determine whether or not it was really needed in the first place.
“TigerConnect allows us to speak to the specialist directly, and very quickly,” said Annie Nunley, physician assistant for the hospitalist team at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital. “I can go over the status of the patient and the specialist can actually give me the speed at which they would like to see them. Do they want the medevac now, or do they want them to be seen in routine and follow-up in a few weeks?”
To see first-hand how SEARHC has reduced patient wait times, improved care coordination, and vastly improved communication across the entire health system, watch the video below: