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Updated 11:00am - Nov 26, 2014

Home arrow Opinion arrow Columns arrow Coastal Voices: Don’t lose sight of what’s good in local health care

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Coastal Voices: Don’t lose sight of what’s good in local health care

My family and I moved to Eureka in 2003, and I have been practicing radiology at Sutter Coast Hospital since 2005.

I am writing this because there is a lot being said about the problems in medicine, not just here in Crescent City, but all over the country. The reality is that the entire system of health-care delivery needs a major overhaul, and no one has a good solution right now. Talking about these issues is healthy. Dissent is healthy, too, because sometimes thinking outside the box will spur innovation.

However, I do not want the people of Del Norte to lose sight of all the good things we have here.

Often we do not appreciate what is right in our backyard. It is easy to forget how much better things are here than in the big cities. This is certainly true when it comes to medical care.  The proverbial grass isn’t always greener.

I have been working as a radiologist for over 20 years. Over that time, I have had the opportunity to work at major medical teaching centers, HMOs, and large-, medium- and small-sized hospitals. My first choice is Sutter Coast Hospital; both as the place I choose to work and as the place my family prefers to receive medical care.

The reason is simple. The patient comes first at Sutter Coast Hospital. The staff, the physicians, the nurses and technologists treat patients as they would treat family members. In my experience, that is rarely the case in larger hospitals where, more often than not, you are treated as a disease, not as a person — or as my wife described her experience at a prestigious university cancer center, being just another “number.”

One thing I strive to accomplish as medical director of the Radiology Department is to provide a human connection with our patients. I think this is where we at Sutter make the most difference.  At SCH the front office, technologists, nurses and radiologists work closely together to treat each patient with kindness and respect.

We are very cognizant of the fact that we do live in a small town, and confidentiality is a high priority. We do not take a cookie cutter approach to the procedures we do.

What so often makes the difference in a patient’s hospital experience is the extra time that the hospital staff takes to give its full attention to each patient.

During a radiology exam or procedure, radiology staff accompanies the patient and explains what is happening each step of the way. The radiology personnel take the extra time to make sure that things do not go undone or fall through the cracks.

It is not unusual for one of the technologists to come to me and let me know that a particular patient is in a lot of pain so that I can be sure to look at his or her study immediately. Also, if nurses or technologists suspect that a patient may have something seriously wrong, they will alert me of their concern.

We are fortunate that Sutter Health keeps our Radiology Department up to date with the latest equipment. Our technologists are able to take advantage of every feature of our equipment in order to provide many of the latest advances in radiology including 3D imaging, angiography and stroke imaging.

As a radiologist, it is my job to keep up with the rapid advances in technology and to guide physicians and patients with regards to selecting the best possible diagnostic exam. My goal is to provide state-of-the-art imaging with a human touch.

As health-care providers in a rural community, we are always looking for ways to make high-quality care available locally so that patients don’t have to travel long distances. We offer minimally invasive procedures such as biopsies, pain management treatments, and a variety of other image-guided procedures. In many cases, these image-guided services provide an alternative to more invasive surgery procedures. All are done with the same technology and expertise you would expect at a large hospital. 

Sometimes providing the best patient care does require us to consult with physicians outside the local area. We have an association with a teleradiology group which provides us with off-site American Fellowship-trained radiologists in many of the sub-specialty areas.

With the aid of our high-speed computers, we can send images securely to your doctors, wherever they may be. Utilizing this system, our Emergency Department physicians can immediately consult specialty physicians in Medford, San Francisco, Sacramento or wherever needed to best determine the next step in a patient’s treatment plan.

Moving to the North Coast is the best decision my family has made. Two things people may notice that I am quick to brag about are my kids and my workplace. They both have one thing in common — their roots in our “rural” North Coast.

The advantage of rural life is most evident when it comes to how we treat each other and how we help each other succeed. Whether it is in school, at work, or even with illness, I believe we serve each other with more compassion.

I am proud to be a part of Sutter Coast Hospital, a place where I get to work with excellent physicians, caring and compassionate staff and have the opportunity to serve my patients to the best of my ability. As I continue to listen to the national and local debates on health care, I am convinced that like our own Battery Point Lighthouse, Sutter Coast Hospital is a shining light in the current storm of health care.

Dr. Helmuth Vollger is the medical director of the Radiology Department at Sutter Coast Hospital.

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