Military medical care not bad deal

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kevin Traw
  • 756th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander
Recently I had the opportunity to get firsthand experience with our medical system. I thought it would be good to share what I learned and observed during my experience.
It all started back in late April. I went to see my primary care manager about a breathing problem, and I was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist downtown.
I received a referral within five days and called the doctor listed on the referral. The doctor listed was an ENT, however, he specialized in ear problems.

 Lesson 1: I talked to TRICARE and was told that I didn't have to use the referral doctor; I could use any TRICARE provider. I called a doctor listed on the TRICARE Web site and made an appointment. As instructed on the referral, I then called TRICARE to give them the name of the doctor, time and date of the appointment. 

When I called TRICARE they told me the doctor listed on the Web site was actually not a provider anymore, but his partner was. 

Lesson 2: So the Web site is not always correct -- after I called TRICARE, they removed the doctor from the Web site. 

I had my appointment with my ENT in late June. Per TRICARE guidelines, patients are supposed to be seen within 30 days, however, I made a choice to wait longer, since I wanted to see a doctor close to home and my condition was not urgent. My appointment went well, and I was scheduled for surgery with the ENT requesting a referral for surgery.

 Lesson 3: My referral was approved within the five days with no issues. I called referral management and my ENT, however, to ensure that all the required coordination was complete; which it was. Remember, it's your medical care so it's important to be proactive. 

The ENT recommended eight days convalescent leave and faxed me a letter, which the orderly room took to the base clinic to get approved. Remember all off base recommendations for time off, duty-limitations or physical training limitations have to be reviewed by an on-base provider/health and wellness center. 

Lesson 4: I asked my ENT for my prescriptions prior to the surgery and had them filled on base. Not only does this save you from paying a co-payment, it saves the Air
Force money. I had my surgery on Aug. 1, 2007, and all seemed to be going well until 5 p.m. Aug. 4. My wife took my temperature and it was alarmingly high; I needed to
go to the hospital.

 Lesson 5: I told my wife prior to my surgery in an emergency, if possible, I wanted to go to Banner-Estrella, for reasons I will discuss soon. It is critical that your family and friends know your desires prior to an emergency. We notified one of the first sergeants who notified the command post and the group commander. 

I went to the emergency room where they ran numerous tests. Once at the ER, the on-call provider from the base came to the ER. This is one of the critical reasons I used Banner Estrella. 

The 56th Medical Group has established outstanding community relations with civilian healthcare facilities. For example, our orthopedic surgeons have admitting privileges at Del Webb and our internal medicine providers
have admitting privileges at Banner Estrella. This allows on-base doctors to be involved with our medical care while in the hospital, to include getting medical details of the case. More importantly, the on call MDG provider, Capt. (Dr.) Brian White, took over my case that night. He determined the course of action I needed, and he admitted me to the hospital. There is no doubt that having Dr. White come out that night saved many hours and made everything go much smoother. The next morning Dr. White returned at 7 a.m. to check my progress. I had to stay another day in the hospital and was discharged
Aug. 6 by Dr. White. 

Lesson 6: I cannot over-emphasize the benefit of being at Banner-Estrella and the care Dr. White was able to provide. The attention and skill that Dr. White provided was instrumental in my recovery. I had worked with Dr. White and other Air Force doctors when other Airmen from our squadron were admitted to Banner-Estrella, and they have consistently done a great job supporting us. Remember Dr. White is an Airman just like the rest of us and responds accordingly to take care of us and our family. I certainly know he had better things to do than come work my case on a Saturday night, but yet there he was making sure I received the care I needed. 

Lesson 7: At the end of the day, we are as equally responsible as the medics for our healthcare. Ask questions, get involved and have a plan.

 Lesson 8: Lastly, how much did all of this cost me? The answer is zero. Between the surgery, ER visit and hospital stay the bill was probably close to $10,000 and yet I paid nothing. Not a bad benefit if
you think about it.