By Tammy L. Reed, 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 20, 2018
The TRICARE Online Patient Portal Secure Messaging portal allows patients to communicate safely, securely and conveniently with their Air Force providers. Secure Messaging can be especially valuable for patients and providers at specialty clinics, to lower the barriers to communications and reduce the stress of getting care. (U.S. Air Force graphic)
Some of the biggest concerns for service members and their family requesting appointments with their family health physicians are being addressed as the 19th Medical Group clinic RESETs the way it does business.
RESET - Reward Efficiency, Set priorities, Empower Teams - is a new way of taking care of patients that originated at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and is working its way around the Air Force.
“It’s all about taking care of the patient’s needs in a more efficient manner for both the patient and the family practice team,” said 1st Lt. Adam Myers, 19th Medical Operations Squadron Family Health physician assistant.
Some of the key components of RESET include: booking patients only with their primary care physician to the greatest extent possible and meeting the patient’s needs quickly, whether with a virtual visit, a traditional face-to-face visit, or a priority access clinic.
“They’re not seeing other primary care providers, unless we are out. But then they’re still seeing our team,” said Myers. “Building that trust with patients is important, and knowing your patient’s history is a safety measure.”
Now the Family Health clinic has the capability to book patients with their provider as much as possible.
They also are succeeding at getting their patients quicker appointments. Myers said they’ve seen a huge improvement in access to care. It used to be four-to-six weeks before patients could get an appointment. Now, they have better access through virtual appointments or taking care of what they can over the phone, which provides openings for same-day or next-day care.
“Priority access clinics also help,” said Myers. “Through a virtual appointment, the provider may say, ‘I want to see you for a physical exam, and I’m going to put you on my schedule to come in between these times.’ Then the patient walks in during those time frames for a face-to-face visit to complete the physical exam.”
When a patient does come into the clinic, Family Health providers aim to take care of all they can in one appointment.
“Another concern from patients was that they have 20 minutes in a standard appointment that took care of one thing,” said Maj. Toni McGee, 19th MDOS Family Health flight commander, “But they have taken off an afternoon of work, and they really want all of their issues taken care of at one time. With this new program, we can do that if we have the time available.”
The clinic staff is doing lots of behind-the-scenes work as part of RESET that helps provide that time for quicker access and sometimes longer appointments.
“Our teams are always in a continuous virtual huddle,” said Myers. “We’re scrubbing the patient charts, checking preventative medicine requirements, looking at what’s on our schedule and looking forward.”
After that the providers reach out to their patients with a better knowledge of their backgrounds and issues to better assist them.
To further help with RESET, the military health professionals at the Med Group also contact their patients through the secure website patient portal that patients can sign into and use to send information to their providers and receive things such as referrals.
The patient portal has changed in the last two years from Relay Health MiCare Portal to TRICARE Online Patient Portal Secure Messaging, and will be changing names again at the end of September with a new company name, Change Healthcare, and a new web address.
With all the changes, patients can still easily request and provide information at any time as well as take advantage of these other benefits:
Get written advice that might be forgotten or misunderstood if communicated verbally
Avoid the annoyance of waiting in phone trees and playing "telephone tag"
Closely monitor health issues through confidential online communications without the inconveniences of traffic, parking, or lost days at work
Get attention and direct contact with your healthcare team for non-urgent matters
Request medication refills, or lab, radiology and medical test results
Request to arrange lab, radiology, medical tests or appointments
Obtain patient education through a web-based application that gives patients access to an extensive library reviewed by board-certified healthcare professionals from leading health institutions in the United States
“One of the things to make the portal more effective is getting our members enrolled,” McGee said. “As patients see that we are using it, then they are more eager to use it. In the last three months, we averaged more than a thousand messages a month. We strongly suggest that patients enroll in the patient portal.”
For more information about the patient portal, please visit http://www.airforcemedicine.af.mil/SecureMessaging/.
To sign up for secure messaging, please visit http://app.mil.relayhealth.com/, after 30 Sep 2018 http://TOLSecureMessaging.com.