Last updated: February 20. 2013 1:30AM - 448 Views

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PLAINS TWP – With two major health care providers operating multiple hospitals and clinics, two insurers with local offices and a recently opened medical college, Northeastern Pennsylvania has a sizeable health care infrastructure.

But area residents don't necessarily see it that way.

A recent survey of about 1,500 residents of Luzerne and Lackawanna counties found only 60 percent considered the quality of health care in the region good or excellent.

Some 25 percent of all patients and 40 percent of those with cancer had also sought health care services outside the area, and those with college degrees were more likely to leave the area for care.

When researchers asked why, there was almost complete consensus that the quality (of treatment) was better (outside the area), according to Teri Ooms, executive director of The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development.

Regional assessment

The institute on behalf of the Healthy Northeast Pennsylvania Initiative -- a partnership of local health care providers and the state Department of Health -- assessed the health care needs of the region through surveys, interviews, focus groups and secondary data analysis.

It was the first such assessment in three years, and the first to focus on patient perceptions and migration outside the area.

On Wednesday, the institute presented its findings to about 60 representatives of local health care providers, universities, government agencies, charities and service providers at the East Mountain Inn in Plains Township.

Ooms said the negative views of some patients reflected might not be true to reality, but they nonetheless reflect the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of a statistically significant portion of the population.

With that perception is a reality that … all the service providers (are forced) to deal with, to address and to correct, Ooms said.

Conrad Schintz, vice president for community relationships for Geisinger Health System and chairman of the Healthy Northeast Pennsylvania Initiative board, said both Geisinger and Wilkes-Barre General Hospital operator Commonwealth Health have stepped up marketing efforts.

They are focusing on hospital improvements and the talents of medical professionals to improve their respective images.

We're trying to tell the community, we have the people here who were in those metropolitan areas doing work and we've brought them here, Schintz said.

A few years ago, there were very few neurosurgeons, and now we've been able to recruit top people in a whole series of subspecialties and provide the care right here, but the community's perception and what's actually occurring are two different things at this time, he said.

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