FORT HOOD, Texas-You can't control when you're going to become sick or injured. But you can take charge of your healthcare treatment by using the military health system's virtual health technology.The Tricare Online Patient Portal puts you in the driver's seat to help you maneuver through your healthcare journey. Through the secure portal, you can access your electronic medical record 24/7, make appointments and get automated appointment reminders, request prescription refills and use the Secure Messaging System to communicate directly with your health care team."The best thing about SMS is that it improves patients' access to their care and develops a better relationship between patients and providers," said Lisa Williams, nurse practitioner at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center's Killeen Medical Home. "SMS eliminates any barriers so patients don't have to wait until their next visit to talk to their provider. If they're sitting at home at 9 p.m. and they think of a something they wanted to ask me, they can sign on to SM and send me an email. The more opportunities you have to talk to your provider, the more personal your healthcare becomes."SMS is the preferred means of communications for Williams and many other CRDAMC healthcare staff, and is quickly becoming the norm for beneficiaries. Recent studies show that CRDAMC's SMS enrollment rate increased from 23 percent in June 2017 to 61 percent in June 2019, which puts CRDAMC in the number one slot for SMS enrollment out of all Army military treatment facilities.The convenience of SMS is the major appeal, according to Ronald Twitchell, a clinical workflow analyst and SMS subject matter expert for CRDAMC."It's available on your computer, tablet or smartphone, so you can use it anytime, from anywhere. There are no busy signals and no waiting for someone to call you back. You know your questions or comments will definitely reach your provider," Twitchell said. "Communicating through email allows providers to be more responsive. Patients can expect a response within 24 hours, but many get responses sooner than that. Plus, an added benefit to using SMS is that, unlike phone calls, all messages are stored and never deleted so you have a permanent record of all conversations with your provider for your personal reference."SMS will not replace face-to-face visits and is not meant to be used in emergency situations Williams advised. Whether patients are using SMS or the Webvisit feature, Williams said healthcare providers always scrutinize communications from patients to determine the type of intervention needed and if the patient needs to be seen."But by handling some routine healthcare activities virtually, it reduces the patient's visits to the clinic and thereby frees up clinic time for those patients who need hands-on assessment and care," Williams said. "There are many instances when using SMS or Webvisit can save the patient a trip. Patients who need to monitor their blood pressure or blood sugar can record their results at home and email them to their provider. If a patient develops a rash, they can take pictures send them to their provider. After reviewing the findings, the provider can make any adjustments to the patient's care and order medication or labs if needed. All done without the patient having to come in."The convenience factor is what appealed to Jacqueline Dean, a beneficiary since 2012 and now an avid user of secure messaging."Initially when I started coming to CRDAMC, I didn't use it. Calling in to try to talk to my doctor was a pain. They're usually busy seeing patients so it's hard to get through. Usually I would be put on hold or ended up playing phone tag," she said. "So when they told me about SMS I thought I would give it a try. Now I wish I had used it earlier. With SMS, I know I can get straight through to my doctor, no more hassles. I like that I get a quick response from my care team--often the same day. I can access it on my phone so if I'm out and I need to request an order for my prescription I can send an email and know it will be placed for me at the pharmacy."Plus, I trust that the communication is secure. I worry more about an information breach from talking on the phone. I just would encourage everybody to use it."For more information about secure messaging, visit the Tricare Secure Online Portal at https://www.tricareonline.com or ask your CRDAMC care team at your clinic.