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MHS clinicians focus on journey to high reliability at AMSUS 2016 conference

Deputy Surgeon General Navy Rear Adm. Terry Moulton addresses MHS clinicians at the 2016 AMSUS Conference. Deputy Surgeon General Navy Rear Adm. Terry Moulton addresses MHS clinicians at the 2016 AMSUS Conference.

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Adequately meeting the health care demands for more than 9 million beneficiaries can be quite a challenge, but that’s what clinicians in the Military Health System (MHS) set out to do every day.

At the AMSUS 2016 conference, held Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 in National Harbor, Maryland, physicians focused on being more understandable to patients. Panel discussions centered on some of the problems that currently exist, how to resolve them, and therefore improve the patient experience.

“We are here to learn from each other, and how to achieve safer, high quality care,” said Army Col. Felicia Pehrson, of the Defense Health Agency. “This will be a collective effort from our senior leaders to our patients, and everybody in between. If all of us are focused on zero preventable harm, then we will raise the bar on health care. We will provide an outstanding patient experience for every patient, every time. But I want to make it clear that this is not just an MHS issue, it is a national issue”

Panelists were forthcoming about the issues that may hamper the patient experience, some of which have resulted in patients being harmed by health care. From miscommunication between physicians to physicians working long hours, panelists addressed these and other issues head-on, and looked at what can be done to ensure satisfactory health outcomes for all beneficiaries.

Dr. Richard Repeta, an emergency medicine physician at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, discussed ways that facility  is using innovation to improve the patient experience. The hospital’s ‘culture of excellence’ includes the establishment of a patient family advisory council. “This council serves as the voice of our patients,” said Repeta. “They really think about the bigger picture, and how to make the experience as a whole better, and seeing beyond their own personal experiences. This is something I think can be beneficial in terms of things we can do within the MHS to ensure better health care outcomes for our patients.”

Dr. Jennifer Blake and Army Lt. Col. Kathleen Spangler of the Andrew Rader U.S. Army Health Clinic in Fort Meyer, Virginia, discussed the importance of team-building within medical treatment facilities (MTF), and how such activities can help transform units into high-reliability organizations. “We looked at our cultural blueprint, and met with all levels of personnel within our facility to get their input,” said Spangler. “Team success leads to buy-in to what we’re doing, which leads to greater success overall. We also wanted to make sure that everyone had a voice. By investing the time to get everyone’s input, we were insuring that a solid foundation was established, thus ensuring that we were on our way to becoming a premiere health clinic within the MHS. If we all are to become better at improving the patient experience, we must commit ourselves to the wellness of our beneficiaries.”

Dr. Timothy Caffrey, chief of the Department of Primary Care at Martin Army Community Hospital in Fort Benning, Georgia, discussed another innovation: an after-hours care clinic available to hospital patients. In 2013, when access to care for beneficiaries saw a drop due to sequestration, Caffrey said he began hearing from clinicians at civilian clinics in the area who were seeing an increased number of patients who were MHS beneficiaries. To meet this ‘demand’ Caffrey opened an urgent care center, which would operate later in the day after most health care clinics in the area had closed. “Since our doors opened in 2014, we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of patients,” said Caffrey. “Many have said had we not been in operation, they would’ve gone to a civilian clinic, or to another MTF the next business day. So in a sense, we’re generating new demand for health care.”

And while the AMSUS panel provided a glimpse into how clinicians are developing methods to meet the challenges of providing better health care, Deputy Surgeon General Navy Rear Adm. Terry Moulton is confident in the patient experience of future MHS beneficiaries. “With tools like the Nurse Advice Line, the Joint Outpatient Experience Survey (JOES) and improvements with secure messaging between providers and patients, I truly feel we are getting better as a health care system, and we will increase the number of satisfactory health outcomes.” 

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