Radiology Today: Imaging Informatics – A Wide Net

Digital connectivity helps the Alaska Native Medical Center solve complex care challenges

By John Dolbinski, Matthew A. Michela, and Florent Saint-Clair
Radiology Today
Vol. 21 No. 7 P. 26

Imagine if one of the patient populations you serve is distributed over roughly 100,000 square miles of ocean and an area slightly larger than Virginia, Kentucky, and Maryland combined. The only way to get to your facility is by boat or small plane, if travel is even possible; heavy fog or cyclonic storms that produce high winds are common. The Aleutian Pribilof Islands are one of 12 regions serviced by the Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC), a territory that runs from those islands in southern Alaska to the most isolated region of the Arctic North Slope.

As Alaska’s main tribal health care referral site, located in Anchorage, ANMC serves as an adult and pediatric level 2 trauma center and primary and specialty care provider. Extreme weather conditions complicate access to necessary health services, as residents must often travel long distances at considerable expense. In addition, recruiting for positions is often difficult and turnover is high. Specialty providers and technology resources, including imaging equipment, are limited, and their scarcity is compounded by the fact that clinics are scattered across the state. ANMC, which is operated jointly by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Southcentral Foundation, needed to expand its digital connectivity to overcome these barriers in geography, weather, and resources.

The hospital implemented a teleradiology and telehealth program as a new and more efficient operating standard. It serves more than 175,000 Alaska Native and American Indian patients via in-person and telehealth services to manage wellness, administer routine care, connect with specialists, and reduce costs related to care and travel. In order to successfully deploy such a program, unique technological circumstances had to be addressed.