Outpatient centers provide superior surgical care close to home
By Keli Hite McGee, The Surgery Center of Fairbanks
Oct 1, 2020
Published in Alaska Pulse/Daily News Miner
Although Alaskans have been traveling to the Lower 48 for medical treatment for years, citing a number of reasons, one reason that is no longer valid is the lack of specialized care in the state.
Let’s take surgery, for example.
The number of complex surgeries Alaskans can have performed in outpatient facilities in the state has exploded, giving patients more choices for care close to home while at the same time reducing health care costs. Not only are there technologically advanced facilities offering surgical procedures that are the same as available in the Lower 48 states, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services annually reviews changes in medical practices and technologies and has increased the types of procedures allowed in outpatient facilities. These include total knee replacements, taking place in facilities certified for this type of specialized care, and providing education that expedites a safe and full recovery in the comfort of the patient’s home rather than in a hospital
Alaskans have long wrestled with the myth that going outside for surgery would mean greater expertise in health care. Fortunately, that myth is busted as patients receive exceptional care by surgeons in Alaska who are experts in the most advanced procedures. When needing surgery in Fairbanks, patients mention an important consideration being the highest level of expertise in a safe place with excellent patient care. In the current environment, COVID has emphasized the importance for communities to have local access to specialty surgeons in outstanding outpatient facilities. Bottom line: Restrictions from COVID make traveling out of state for procedures less than ideal, even if all other factors were equal.
Patients are also concerned about medical facilities and COVID treatment. Outpatient surgery centers in Alaska initially prepared to care for COVID patient overflow under the “Hospitals Without Walls” initiative, which would permit surgery centers to treat COVID patients in an emergency. Fortunately, the state of Alaska did not have to implement this policy due to a low number of COVID hospitalization cases. However, this did demonstrate the importance for communities to have both hospitals and separate outpatient surgery centers. Patients who needed emergent surgical procedures could still have those conducted in a location different from facilities treating COVID patients.
Delaying a surgical procedure is not what patients want to hear when they are in pain and their quality of life is impacted. Alaska health mandates now allow non-emergent surgeries in outpatient centers after strict COVID screening and testing requirements to ensure the highest level of safety.
This includes patient testing 48 to 72 hours before surgery with a call the night before by a nurse who screens for travel and symptoms. This is repeated on the day of the procedure.
Surgery centers have strict infectious disease control procedures and nationally have lower infection rates than inpatient facilities. Even with those noteworthy statistics, COVID has caused surgery centers to practice extra precautions such as not permitting family members in patient preparation or recovery areas.
At The Surgery Center of Fairbanks, communication with loved ones is immediate and frequent via automatic texts to family or friends as the patient moves from pre-op to the operating room and then recovery.
The health care professionals on staff at outpatient centers such as The Surgery Center of Fairbanks are sensitive to patients not having a family member by their side and are committed to ensuring the most comfortable and pleasant experience possible.
Many insurance plans offer out-of-state travel for surgery, but due to family obligations, pets, and other responsibilities, most Alaskans prefer to stay close to home and know they receive care comparable to other cities in the United States.
For example, The Surgery Center of Fairbanks was awarded the Gold Seal of Approval and Certificate of Distinction for two surgical service programs: knee joint replacement and spinal surgery. The Joint Commission, the nation’s leading health care accreditation and certification organization, grants these certifications. It requires a rigorous review of compliance with national standards, clinical guidelines, and care outcomes.
The recognitions follow numerous other national accreditations and awards received by The Surgery Center of Fairbanks. The center is among fewer than 150 medical facilities nationwide, one of only two in Alaska to have received the spine surgery distinction and among less than 450 centers across the U.S. to hold the knee joint replacement certification.
Dr. Mark Wade founded The Surgery Center in Fairbanks to provide superior care options and for patients to stay closer to home for surgery. This has been especially important during the COVID pandemic at a time when the hospital braced for potentially high admissions. It has also provided Fairbanks with a local alternative for care and expert surgeons who have chosen Fairbanks as their home and community.
Keli Hite McGee is administrator of The Surgery Center of Fairbanks.