MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. -- Sparing patients from unnecessary trips to the emergency room and saving the hospital more than $20,000 annually in contracts is all in a night's work for the staff at the Madigan Army Medical Center Communication Center.

The 24/7 center usually focuses on coordinating ambulance transportation, monitoring hospital alarms, and customer service such as emergency codes and overhead announcements, but they took on one more duty as the overnight focal point for questions from postoperative patients. Their number is listed in patients' discharge orders as a means to be connected with on-call doctors.

"It's usually about medications or their legs may be swollen or they've been told to call if they've seen any differences, just little minor things like that. We just page the service on call, give them the information, and we connect them, the doctor to the patient," said Rita Rairdan, the communications center supervisor; her team can connect patients with their care teams for up to three months post-surgery.

While plastic surgery was the first service that partnered with the center to offer these overnight pages, other services followed suit and now the center helps patients from all services in the Department of Surgery.

"Certainly it's been a great resource that allows us that opportunity to have that additional engagement," said Lt. Col. Marc Herr, chief of the Department of Surgery; he added that most after hours' calls concern the appearance of surgical sites or the degree of postoperative pain and the relief of prescribed medication provided. "Sometimes again, it's answering a question or alleviating a concern with that particular phone call, but other times it's facilitating the patient popping in to see their provider maybe the following day or the day after much more expeditiously, avoiding the middle man of the ER or the urgent care clinic."

Offering this extra support to patients is just one more way that the Madigan Communications Center helps contribute to patient care.

"We think it's a great benefit for the patient and the staff," said Rairdan. "We just feel good about doing it."