Providing High Quality Care in Remote Locations
Providing health care in rural areas can be quite challenging. Depending on the location, accessibility, high cost of living, harsh weather conditions, and/or lack of infrastructure are all factors that can make it much more difficult to provide needed health care services to people in those areas. Certain communities in Alaska are more remote than most places in the United States, with some villages only being accessible by air. Southcentral Foundation is responsible for providing care in 55 rural villages, in addition to care provided in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and we have taken several steps to ensure that care is delivered in a way that helps the people in these remote locations achieve and maintain wellness. These steps include provider trips to villages, telehealth, and the use of Community Health Aides/Practitioners (CHA/Ps).
All SCF providers with panels cover villages in the Rural Alaska Service Unit. Each village has different needs, and some require provider trips to see customer-owners on a regular basis. Providers work out of community health centers and clinics, and maintain a strong working relationship with CHA/Ps in the communities. SCF’s principles of team-based care apply to care in rural communities just as they do in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
Telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, health education, and health administration. Through the use of video conferencing technology, SCF providers can offer care and support to customer-owners in rural villages as it is needed. Through tele-pharmacy, pharmacists in Anchorage can provide medications prescribed for customer-owners in rural villages remotely, with the medication dispensed from vending machines located in the villages. In cases where customer-owners need more support, providers can visit them, or they can be brought to Anchorage in cases where that is warranted.
Community Health Aides/Practitioners (CHA/Ps)
CHA/Ps also provide health care in rural villages. A federal program, the Community Health Aide Program consists of a network of approximately 550 CHA/Ps in over 170 rural Alaska villages. CHA/Ps work within the guidelines of the Alaska Community Health Aide/Practitioner Manual in assessing and referring those who seek medical care and consultation. Alaska CHA/Ps are the front line of health care in many communities.
SCF also provides other types of care in rural villages, including dental and behavioral health. Over the years, SCF has learned that while providing care in remote areas with limited technology is a challenge, creative solutions that work to ensure continuity of care in rural areas through building relationships can result in improved health care for those in rural communities.