What you need to know about UW Medicine in the islands

By Colleen Armstrong and Mandi Johnson

While UW Medicine has the potential to be a great benefit to our island, the first few months of its operation on Orcas and Lopez have been good and bad.

Some of our readers have nothing but positive things to say about their interactions with the clinic, while others are now choosing to go off island for their medical care.

With major change can come learning curves, but there are a few key issues that we wish UW Medicine had been transparent about during public meetings in the months leading up to the transition.

In an effort to be positive and welcoming to this new entity into our community, we would like to point out some things that were not made clear previously.

Key points to understand

• Even if you are a long-time patient of Orcas Medical Center or Dr. Russell, you are brand new to UW Medicine. Before you can see a provider at the clinic, you must fill out new patient paperwork and have a 45-minute new patient appointment.

• The cost for this first appointment could be higher. If you are seeing one of the brand new providers (such as Dr. Alperin) your insurance will be billed a “new patient” charge. Depending on your insurance, this may or may not be covered. If you are seeing a physician you’ve seen some time in the last three years (such as Dr. Russell on Orcas or Dr. Wilson on Lopez), you are still new to UW but your insurance should be billed at the “existing patient” rate. If you are charged the new patient free incorrectly, call the clinic and let a staff member know.

• Your files were not “automatically” transferred. You must give written permission for your information from Island Hospital to be sent to UW. You can fill out that form here: https://www.islandhospital.org/medicalrecords

• When you call UW Medicine on Orcas or Lopez and push 1 for an appointment, you are not speaking to someone located in the San Juans. You are speaking to a desk operator on the mainland.

• Unless you are experiencing a serious medical issue, you are unlikely to receive a same-day, urgent care appointment. UW defines a serious issue as: laceration, broken bone, medication reaction, persistent respiratory illness, fever, nausea/vomiting and acute symptoms of pain. If you’ve got a nagging cough and a lingering illness, it may take a few days to see a physician to get those antibiotics.

We spoke to Jay Priebe, director of UW rural primary care operations, about islanders’ concerns. He encouraged patients to reach out to him at JPriebe@uwpn.org or 206-520-2290 with questions.

He said, “Do you know how lucky you are to have your providers as part of a unique faculty group across the nation? We’re so committed to provide that high quality of service.”