Publisher's note: This story was updated at 2 pm Alaska Standard Time on June 30, 2021.
A new partnership between Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center and Anchorage-based Alaska Radiology Associates to provide imaging systems has brought new health care resources to the island.
The partnership, finalized on May 24, means more experts will rotate through PKMIC on a weekly basis.
“We are excited to welcome Alaska Radiology Associates to the Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center care team,” Karl Hertz, administrator of PKIMC, said in a news release announcing the partnership. “Their experience, dedication and expertise are a huge asset to our patients and providers, ensuring people get the care they need where and when they need it.”
The new radiology services include neuroradiology, breast radiology, body imaging, vascular imaging, musculoskeletal Imaging, and many new imaging-guided procedures previously unavailable on Kodiak.
“When you look at medicine and how it sub-specializes, radiology is one of those fields where everybody has a general hat where we do the general stuff but each has our own area of expertise,” Reed said. “We’re bringing that to the community for the first time where people who come here for a brain MRI can have that read by a neuroradiologist.”
ARA already provides imaging service to the other Providence medical centers around Alaska and many other sites, “from Dutch Harbor all the way up to Nome,” Reed said. ARA currently has 16 sub-specialized radiologists and four physician extenders who rotate through the various medical sites the company contracts with.
Reed said ARA has made some investment in Kodiak, including the purchase of a house for its rotating staff members who visit.
“It’s important for the community to know that our doctors all live in Alaska and weren’t brought from out of state,” Reed said. “They’re going to be seeing us at local restaurants, at the grocery store and really living in the community as we rotate through.”
Dr. Heather Tauschek, one of ARA’s breast radiologists, said she used to receive a fair number of patients traveling from Kodiak to Anchorage for appointments.
“Those patients no longer need to leave because we will provide that service here,” Tauschek said.
Reed said ADA will also be on call 24/7, meaning that imaging services done in Kodiak will be read in under 30 minutes for STAT exams, and on average in under 2 hours for routine exams.
“That’s something we’ve provided for our other clients and patients in Alaska for the last years and something that was really needed here,” Reed said.
“Your emergency room doctors don’t have to wait, the hospitalists and other doctors don't have to wait — there’s never going to be a situation where you have to wait several hours and then find out the next day something terrible went wrong. It’s just not acceptable in 2021 to have to wait several hours for critical results, and we’re really glad we are able to provide that.”
Rotating its staff through has its merits, Reed said.
“We all have our own specialities, so it would not serve the community well to have just one of us here all of the time,” Reed said. “By rotating through, it allows us to take care of people’s specific needs.”
Tauschek noted, for example, that Reed has experience with back-pain injections, while she performs breast biopsies.
“Radiology really is the central heart of where medicine comes together,” Reed said.
Reed said ARA is working with hospital leadership on new upgrades and providing guidance “in making sure the attention stays on it until those upgrades are in place.”
The hospital already has made investments and upgrades, including the recent acquisition of a three-dimensional mammography system from GE Healthcare.
ARA also worked with Providence to ensure a high-quality data connection so imaging files could be sent in a timely manner. Reed said the hospital managed to boost the broadband capacity within a few weeks of ARA taking the lead on radiology.
“It’s improved our connectivity between Anchorage and here, which has only helped,” Reed said. Breast diagnoses performed by Tauschek, for example, can be done with high-quality data no matter her location.
“Alaska Radiology Associates has a tremendous partnership with GCI that has enabled us to expand speeds and bandwidths,” Reed said.
In addition, ARA is working to establish itself as a pilot client for a satellite internet company in its rural sites as a backup connection.
“It would be a remarkable backup for those times when the conventional method goes down,” he said. “We want to have a backup because if there's a patient at 1 a.m. and the primary connectivity goes down, we don’t want anyone harmed by that.”
Tauschek and Reed said that once key improvements have been made, new radiology services can be added.
“There is a lot of ultrasound procedures, for example, that haven't been done here and there is no reason it can’t be now,” Tauschek said. “Imaging services like baby heads or baby hips are something people had to go to Anchorage for, and we’re going to bring that here.”
Tauschek added that any added service “means less travel for people who live here, and that’s a huge cost saver.”
She noted that in the past, when breast cancer specialists in Anchorage received a medical scan from Kodiak, they wanted to repeat the procedure to “have a second pair of eyes on it.”
“That’s not going to be the case any more because we already have an established relationship with the community,” Tauschek said.
Reed estimated the number of people who could be helped with radiological services on the island could improve by 50% in the next year, meaning fewer patients would have to leave the island for minor procedures.