Americans on overseas assignments can find the experience to be quite overwhelming. While the language barrier, culture and solitude can make the transition more difficult, health care shouldn’t be jeopardized.
The end of the Cold War led to a withdrawal of U.S. Forces in Europe during the 1990s. A dramatic change in the overseas American health care system also occurred, with the closing of dozens of Military Treatment Facilities across Germany, leading to an increased dependence on the German health care system for some Americans.
To assist with the unnerving task of managing health care while overseas, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center employs multiple host nation patient liaisons to help Americans navigate through host nation health care.
While assigned to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, host nation patient liaisons provide services to all Americans while overseas, including Department of Defense civilian employees, Department of Defense Education Activity employees, and retirees.
“As long as they need help, we pretty much answer everybody's call,” said Gabriele Harrison, host nation patient liaison supervisor and transfer coordinator at LRMC. “There is a host nation patient liaison that can help when they are in a German hospital. If (Americans) don't speak the language, if they are worried about what treatments they receive, if they need help with communicating with doctors whatever the issue, there is a liaison that can help.”
Ensuring Americans are aware of their services is a main focus for patient liaisons to prevent patients from worrying if they ever find themselves in a host nation medical facility.
“It's good to know (services available) before people actually get sick or hurt in accidents,” said Harrison.
“We work very closely with the German medical facilities, and their staffs,” explains Bonnie DeJesus, host nation patient liaison. “Ideally we know before they go if it's a routine hospitalization so we can get to (the patient) and discuss what they need to take with them, what to expect, and explain the differences between the German healthcare delivery system and the American healthcare delivery system.”
According to DeJesus, during emergencies, patient liaisons are authorized to communicate certain aspects of care with chains of command, allowing patients to focus on their care. Additionally, the liaisons play an important role ensuring patients understand German healthcare providers’ roles, medical orders and discharge instructions.
“German nurses are not allowed to give out a lot of medical information (by German law) and some patients get frustrated because they ask the nurses and the nurses say ‘I can't tell you that’ or ‘I'm not allowed to say that,’” explains DeJesus. “The nurses (are) there for other purposes.”
“Anything that we can possibly do for the patients we'll do it and we stay engaged in the care of that patient until they get discharged,” adds Harrison. “We’re like a safety net for them. Somebody they can turn to and get answers to their questions because the fear of the unknown is the worst.”