Patient liaisons are link to off-post care
September 15, 2011
BAUMHOLDER, Germany, Sept. 15, 2011 -- In July 1994 the first two Baumholder liaisons visited patients in German hospitals. A little room with a chair and a desk was their office at the health clinic, and the clinic staff did not quite know what to make of this new program.
"Those were challenging times," says Stefanie Ide, who remembers her first patient. "He was a Soldier with an ankle fracture, who was taken to Birkenfeld for surgery. The surgeon just looked at us questioning our presence and purpose, while the patient was more than happy to see us."
It didn't take long for everybody to appreciate this new program. It simplified care between local and military physicians and explained cultural differences. Patients now had a facilitator to translate for them while they were treated at the local hospitals.
In the meantime, Baumholder now has four liaisons visiting patients admitted to local hospitals, and since April 2010, outpatient liaison services have been introduced Europe-wide. Patients are escorted for their visits to German doctors' offices, helped with paperwork and finding their way around the facilities, and provided with language assistance.
"Most of our German doctors speak good English, especially when it comes to medical terminology, but they have a hard time when trying to explain simple things," says Janine Berry, the senior outpatient liaison at the Baumholder Health Clinic.
Liaisons also listen to patients' concerns and help them understand the German medical system.
"Being asked by a German gynecologist to take off your clothes can come as a shock to an American patient. We explain this beforehand and even provide our patients with gowns," said Berry.
"When I was told that my son would have to be referred out onto the economy to receive further treatment for his condition, I was initially fearful," remembers Yaelmie Gomez. "But then I was contacted by a patient liaison, who not only reassured me that she could find a doctor, but she was also knowledgeable enough to know about a good hospital where she felt he would get the best care."
"She attended my first initial appointment, had all the documents with my son's medical history ready to provide to the doctor and made sure that I felt comfortable to come to the next appointment alone," Gomez said. "I know for me, our local patient liaison team eased all my fears and amazed me in what they do each and every day."
Liaisons work closely with the clinic staff to coordinate necessary follow-ups, they know both medical systems and bring them together for the benefit of the patient.
"This is a very rewarding job, because you can really help patients. Big medical facilities like the Homburg University Hospital or the Westpfalzklinikum in Kaiserslautern are very confusing. Even German patients get lost there. Knowing your way and knowing the providers helps smooth the way for a good doctor's visit. And that's what we aim for," says Michelle Merson, who has been working as a liaison since April of this year.
Together with her colleague, she covers many miles during the week going with patients to Idar-Oberstein for an MRI, to Kusel for an ear, nose and throat evaluation, to Birkenfeld for a gynecological appointment or to Ramstein to see the pediatric gastroenterologist.
Baumholder's host nation liaisons have their office in the Baumholder Health Clinic. They are available Mondays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to noon, and 1-4 p.m.; and Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon. For assistance call mil 485-8575, 8750, 6831, 6668, 6205 or 7037.