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Stopping stroke is one goal of Bothell's Pacific Vascular
According to the American Heart Association, about 75 percent of strokes happen without the victims feeling any prior symptoms or warning signs.
At the same time, most health-insurance plans will only pay for testing and treatment when symptoms do exist. Also at the same time, the National Stroke Association reports that up to 70 percent of strokes are avoidable.
According to Pacific Vascular CEO Keith Fujioka, that all adds up to a very serious problem.
“It’s really saying, have a stroke first and then we’ll treat you,” Fujioka said.
A certified vascular technician himself, Fujioka said early detection of carotid artery disease, a major cause of strokes, could lower the number of persons actually suffering strokes. As stroke is the third largest cause of death in the U.S. striking at some 790,000 persons a year, Fujioka believes any reduction in the numbers would be significant.
With all these factors in mind, the Bothell-based Pacific Vascular recently launched Futura Health Screening, an ultrasound-based, medical testing service with locations in Kirkland, West Seattle and Enumclaw, with plans for expansion.
“This really grew out of frustration... If we’re having 790,000 strokes a year, we are getting to patients too late,” Fujioka said.
Director of Ancillary Services for Futura, Julie Menkens added that education is a big part of Futura’s mission. While both she and Fujioka can rattle off some seemingly scary statistics about stroke and related illnesses and conditions, numbers they think the public should know, both also insisted they are not out to frighten people into pumping up their company’s bottom line.
“We want to get to the right population... We’re not out to scare people,” Menkens said.
While they will test anyone who wants to be tested, Menkens added Futura patients go through a thorough screening process. Patients are asked about stroke risk factors such as age, diet, smoking (past or present), family history, exercise habits and so on.
If a would-be patient doesn’t really have a lot of risk factors, they are told the testing probably isn’t needed.
For carotid artery disease, a juiced-up ultrasound machine produces pictures of the arteries in a patient’s neck. The vast majority of strokes result from a loss of blood flow to the brain, which leads quickly to oxygen deprivation, brain damage and possibly death. Plaque build-up and the resulting blockage in carotid arteries is one major indicator of potential stroke, according to both Fujioka and Menkens. But both also noted that blockage is treatable medically or surgically.
Besides the carotid test, Futura also offers abdominal aneurysm studies and peripheral arterial disease (PAD) testing. Both again use ultrasound.
A greatly simplified explanation might state that abdominal aneurysms are a swelling of the aorta and a major cause of death among men 50 and older. In your extremities, the presence of PAD is an indicator of potential heart problems and affects eight million to 12 million people age 40 and older.
Fujioka said each test takes about 15 minutes, are all non-evasive and totally painless. The testing technology Futura uses is based on equipment Pacific Vascular helped develop in the 1970s and early 1980s, growing out of what was known as the Institute of Applied Physiology and Medicine. Fujioka said one such technology allows technicians to actually hear the flow of blood through veins.
Launched in 1986 and becoming employee owned in 1999, Pacific Vascular has a large number of testing facilities, many of which are blended almost seamlessly into health-care providers such as Swedish Medical Centers and Stephens Hospital. Fujioka said Pacific is, to the best of his knowledge, the largest non-mobile vascular testing system in the country. He seems proud that Pacific does not offer mobile services, which he stated allows technicians to take their time with patients, getting a medical history and conducting tests as thoroughly and accurately as possible.
The company trains many of its technicians itself, but those technicians have about a 98-percent passage rate on accreditation tests. Fujioka said the company has chosen to keep its emphasis on vascular procedures.
“This is our primary focus, always has been, always will be,” he said.