Innovative primary care delivery in rural Alaska: a review of patient encounters seen by community health aides

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Innovative primary care delivery in rural Alaska: a review of patient encounters seen by community health aides

Co-Action Publishing


Background. For more than 50 years, Community Health Aides and Community Health Practitioners (CHA/Ps) have resided in and provided care for the residents of their villages. Objectives. This study is a systematic description of the clinical practice of primary care health workers in rural Alaska communities. This is the first evaluation of the scope of health problems seen by these lay health workers in their remote communities. Study design. Retrospective observational review of administrative records for outpatient visits seen by CHA/Ps in 150 rural Alaska villages (approximate population 47,370). Methods. Analysis of electronic records for outpatient visits to CHA/Ps in village clinics from October 2004 through September 2006. Data included all outpatient visits from the Indian Health Service National Patient Information Reporting System. Descriptive analysis included comparisons by region, age, sex, clinical assessment and treatment. Results. In total 272,242 visits were reviewed. CHA/Ps provided care for acute, chronic, preventive, and emergency problems at 176,957 (65%) visits. The remaining 95,285 (35%) of records did not include a diagnostic code, most of which were for administrative or medication-related encounters. The most common diagnostic codes were: pharyngitis (11%), respiratory infections (10%), otitis media (8%), hypertension (6%), skin infections (4%), and chronic lung disease (4%). Respiratory distress and chest pain accounted for 75% (n=10,552) of all emergency visits. Conclusions. CHA/Ps provide a broad range of primary care in remote Alaskan communities whose residents would otherwise be without consistent medical care. Alaska’s CHA/P program could serve as a health-care delivery model for other remote communities with health care access challenges.Keywords: rural health care; community health workers; health aides; primary care; CHA/P; Alaska Native Health Care(Published: 29 June 2012)Citation: Int J Circumpolar Health 2012, 71: 18543 - access the supplementary material to this article: 'NPIRS Categorical Hierarchy' please see the Supplementary files in the column to the right (under Article Tools).

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