FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Arriving at a new installation, whether a Soldier is brand new to the Army or is a seasoned veteran, can be an unnerving experience. Navigating Tricare is difficult at any time and compounding that task with a permanent change of station is especially complicated.

"Soldiers and their families often feel as though they are starting all over every time they move," said Cynthia Powell, registered nurse, Irwin Army Community Hospital.

Early in Powell's career at IACH she noticed that her patients were frequently overwhelmed by the lengthy and intricate process of establishing a new primary care manager, refilling prescriptions or following up on referrals at a new military post.

Powell is making this transition easier through the First Encounters program at IACH.
It was the first of its kind, military wide, when it opened its doors July 2017. Since then, Powell has spent her days engaged with military members and their families determining exactly what they need from their healthcare team.

The process is easy.

A new service member or a family member simply calls and makes an appointment to meet with Powell. Before they arrive for their appointment, Powell reviews each family member's medical records, going back years if needed, and determines where she thinks they need care.

"I go back years and find things -- family history or a previous diagnosis that dropped off or they forgot about," Powell said. "And if it's a significant history, I communicate with the primary care management team RN and I put a note in the appointment slot as well. I'm reaching out there with all of this information and that's a big deal for this program."

The medical review is extensive and takes into consideration a patient's current medications, referrals, immunizations, lab results and assigned primary care manager as well as looking at preventative care that may be needed such as a mammogram, pap smear, colonoscopy or well child exam.

Powell has had patients come in to see her and need immediate attention or specialized care, and because of the time she spends researching each patient's history, before they step out of her office, she often has appointments made and prescriptions filled.

"I assist in getting them their appointments and in getting the communication highway going between what's going on with that patient, their PCM and case management if needed," she said. "I ensure that their PCM is aligned appropriately for the level of care that patient is going to need."

During the appointment, patients answer additional questions about their healthcare and discuss with Powell their health history she compiled, correcting the records if it is needed and presenting any additional concerns they have. For a family of four, First Encounters staff spend an hour with them examining their needs. If a family is larger than four, they extend the appointment.

A new patient packet is given to each Soldier and their family. In the packet is information on how and where to fill prescriptions, access the Self-Care medications program, how to apply for Women, Infants, and Children benefits, make appointments, use Patient Portal, contact the advice nurse, use dental benefits and more.

Finally, patients are given a tour of IACH and its clinics. If a patient wants to see a specific part of the hospital, such as labor and delivery or physical therapy, they make a stop there too.

Powell calls First Encounters a "one-stop shopping center" for understanding and coordinating healthcare for both new and existing patients. She said a great benefit of the program is that by doing all the leg work proactively, it frees up time for patients and doctors to get to know one another during their first appointment and to address any topics that only a PCM can manage.

First Encounters isn't just for patients new to Fort Riley. They are there to help anyone who has questions or needs help managing their healthcare.

The program has a 100 percent satisfaction rating, according to Powell, with some customers claiming that the program is essential for service members and their families, changing the way they will utilize resources in the clinics.

For additional information on First Encounters or to set up an appointment call Cynthia Powell at 785-239-7870.