CAMP ZAMA, Japan – U.S. Army Medical Department Activity–Japan announced a new health care option for civilians and the rollout of an electronic health record system during a town hall Aug. 29.
The Civilian Health Care Navigator Program plans to place five translators at nearby Zama General Hospital starting Oct. 2 to assist Department of Defense civilians, contractors and their dependents not enrolled in TRICARE Prime or Select.
The Japanese hospital is within walking distance from Camp Zama’s main gate and offers more services than those found at U.S. military bases in Japan.
“It's going to provide much closer [health care] access with English-speaking capability to our wonderful civilian workforce here in U.S. Army Japan,” said Col. Jeremy Johnson, commander of MEDDAC-J.
The program, a top priority for the USARJ command team, was created July 7 when a memorandum of understanding was signed between USARJ and Zama General Hospital, he said.
The agreement allows the translators to work inside the hospital and it also provides them a desk where patients can check in.
“I’ve heard the high levels of dissatisfaction with access to care for our DOD civilians and their dependents, and so we decided we’ve got to find some solutions,” he told the audience watching online and at the Camp Zama Community Club.
The move is similar to the translator services already offered to U.S. service members and their families when they receive referrals to off-post medical facilities.
“This is extending some of those services to our civilian population without TRICARE,” Johnson said, adding the translator services will be free of charge.
Medical treatment costs are also considerably lower at the Zama hospital compared to U.S. medical facilities. For instance, the cost of an initial doctor visit is about $20 and a follow-up visit is about $7, while a blood collection test is around $40 and an MRI or CT inspection is less than $140.
“As you can see, it’s way, way cheaper than you’ll ever find in the United States for all of these services,” Johnson said.
The team of translators will help patients navigate the hospital and translate receipts into English to make it easier for them to file for reimbursement through their insurance companies, he added.
“If you’re going to use this program, please take great care of them and they will take great care of you,” he said of the translators. "They are really saints, in my opinion, because they are doing this as a new program and will be pouring their hearts and souls into helping our community."
During the town hall, Scott Bolin, a teacher and head football coach at Zama Middle High School, asked what will happen to the translator program when commanders rotate in and out.
Bolin, who has lived here for 12 years, said he and his family look forward to having an option locally since they typically commute to Tokyo for medical care.
“I do appreciate Colonel Johnson and his staff for what they’re doing,” Bolin said afterward. “I’m optimistic and I think it’s a good move on their part. I think it will help alleviate some of the stress. Again, my question is going to be [about the] continuity. Will it stay?”
Johnson responded to the question by saying the USARJ commander was fully behind the program, and that the translator slots are paid for by the host nation.
So far, the Japan Engineer District has given at least two of its permanent positions to support the program, he said, adding there are ongoing efforts to make the other temporary slots permanent as well.
The colonel also reassured the audience the BG Sams U.S. Army Health Clinic here will continue to provide space-available appointments for those without TRICARE.
Patients can call at 10 a.m. each day to see if a same-day appointment or a future routine appointment in the next three business days is available. To book an appointment, patients can call DSN 262-4175 or by cellphone at 046-407-4175.
All well-baby checks up to age 4, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, can be booked anytime with no restrictions, as well as sports and school physicals for 5 to 18 year olds, he said.
In October, MEDDAC-J will begin to see an impact in its access to care as it prepares to roll out MHS Genesis, a new electronic health record.
MHS Genesis will support up to 9.6 million DOD beneficiaries and replaces many different medical records to standardize care across the military.
U.S. military bases in Japan and South Korea will be the last sites to deploy the system by Oct. 28, and it will cover the lifespan of any patient in the Military Health System.
“It’s going to really improve our documentation and your health care record,” Johnson said. “You’re going to be able to have the same record from the day you were born in the military system, or join up as a young Soldier or officer, all the way until you go to ... [Veterans Affairs].”
The system will also include an online portal where patients can access their health care information, book appointments, view lab and test results, and securely message their primary care team.
As medical staff learn the system, the health clinic expects a 25% reduction in operations in October, a 50% reduction in November and then back down to 25% in December before returning to normal operations in January.
Johnson encouraged patients to schedule appointments for periodic health assessments, school physicals, and chronic medical problems now to ensure they can be provided care.
Beneficiaries should also confirm their Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System information is correct, since MHS Genesis will pull it straight from DEERS, he added.
Once established, MHS Genesis will also be able to view and share patient health records with nearly 70% of civilian hospitals in the U.S. that participate in the Joint Health Information Exchange, Johnson said.
“We are looking forward to it,” he said of the new record system. “And please work with us and we’ll work with you. Let’s come together and make this the best process we can.”
To view the slides from the medical town hall, visit here.