Patient liaisons help military members navigate German health care system
September 8, 2011
HEIDELBERG, Germany - As military clinics around Mannheim and surrounding areas begin to shut their doors, patients will need to turn to the local medical community for treatment.
Those with specific needs that cannot be met in military facilities, or those whose wait times for appointments are too long, have long been referred to host nation providers.
But for many Americans living in U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg, the thought of using local health care can be somewhat daunting.
According to Europe Regional Medical Command, host nation providers and their staffs are highly educated professionals who provide excellent medical services.
The most recent World Health Organization health system rating placed Germany, Italy, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Spain in the top 25 of the world's health systems of overall patient satisfaction.
The U.S. was number 37.
In addition to receiving top-notch medical care outside overseas military installations, patients of the U.S. Army Health Center Heidelberg can also use the services of host nation patient liaisons, who are happy to assist.
"Just when you think, 'Oh no, here I am all alone in this German hospital,' in walks the host nation patient liaison to let you know that you are not alone," said Anthony M. Sosa, healthcare information specialist at the Heidelberg Health Center.
"There is someone there to assist and answer your questions in English. Our patient liaisons are dedicated to making your lives easier, allowing you to focus on the care plan at hand and your own treatment or recovery," Sosa said.
Host nation patient liaisons are also ready and available for routine appointments.
"We're familiar with the facilities they're going to, know the physicians and staffs and can give them some insight as to what to expect. Generally speaking, all German doctors speak English more than adequately to communicate well with their American patients and are familiar with their expectations," said Bonnie DeJesus, host nation patient liaison in Kaiserslautern.
While many physicians speak good English, their staffs may not. Host nation patient liaisons here are fluent in English and German, are familiar with medical terminology (which sometimes does not directly translate into English) and can help patients converse with clinic staff, which helps avoid misinformation and a breakdown in communication.
Cultural norms between the United States and Germany, although similar in many ways, can unexpectedly vary, no matter how comfortable the patient is with the host nation and general day-to-day life, said who.
For example, German opposite gender physicians may not provide chaperones while conducting exams, and nursing staff may walk through a room during the exam or while the patient is undressing.
The patient liaison can ask for accommodation on the patient's behalf if she or he is uncomfortable with these common practices.
"We facilitate the transition of health care delivery between the American military medical system and the local national medical system by explaining differences between the two systems so patients know what to expect (in regard to) cultural differences, items to bring, meals, accommodations, visiting hours and parking," DeJesus said.
The patient liaisons also submit daily reports on patient status to the commander and monitoring physicians, including the patient's admission date, diagnosis, treatments, names and telephone numbers of stations where patients are located so that the commander or monitoring physicians can contact the local national attending physician on the patient's behalf as necessary.
Due to transformation, the host nation patient liaison in Mannheim is now responsible for Coleman Barracks, Benjamin Franklin Village and the Mannheim Klinikum.
More information about off-post health care can be found in the Guide to Host Nation Health Care, available at the Heidelberg Health Center on Nachricten Kaserne or via a downloadable PDF at http://ermc.amedd.army.mil/heidelberg/index.cfm.