By Patrick BuffettDecember 2, 2010
FORT LEE, Va. (Dec. 2, 1010) -- A top Army Family Action Plan recommendation by Team Lee is about to become a reality at Kenner Army Health Clinic when the facility opens its new Patient Appointment Center for scheduling medical exams and other in-house services.
Starting Dec. 6, Kenner patients will only need to dial one number - 1-866-LEE-KAHC (533-5242) - to schedule an appointment at the facility or obtain other military healthcare information. The PAC will replace the long-used TRICARE appointment line and could become a model for other in-house operations at military healthcare facilities service-wide.
"I'm not aware of any other Army clinic that uses the 'remote' or 'cloud-based' technology Kenner is introducing," said Scott Norris, chief of clinical operations at Kenner. "Remote technology is becoming more common in the civilian healthcare community, and we incorporated many of those best practices into our operational procedures while building this system. Now, we will rely on the feedback from our community to make improvements as we move forward with this process improvement."
The introduction of newer call center technology has also helped Kenner avoid costly hardware and software purchases, Norris said. "Instead of investing in a complicated and expensive communication platform, we leveraged the available technology, which turns out to be less expensive and operationally superior than the traditional communication platforms we considered,"
Kenner's enthusiasm for the new call center is reflected in Norris' eager description of its anticipated benefits.
"We're confident, by February 2010 when the system is fully operational, it will result in better access to care," he said. "Moving patient scheduling in-house means more control of our available appointments and far fewer instances of not filling an opening or double-booking a slot. The first few months will understandably have its challenges as we learn our way around the capabilities of our new system, but once the process is refined, we believe our patients will be much happier with Kenner booking their appointments.
"In patient terms, it will eliminate the frustrating business of calling around to various phone numbers to find an appointment," Norris added. "The PAC also will eliminate the volume of calls received by the individual clinics at Kenner, which means more time to focus on their primary mission - assisting and treating patients."
Furthermore, the PAC will feature continuous monitoring by a licensed nurse, Norris noted, and its location is just a few doors down from the facility's command area. Additionally, when the system is fully operational, the setup will include an e-mail link that will be used for appointment verification, disseminating Kenner information and patient feedback.
"While setting this up, we tried to think in terms of what services the patient would need," Norris said. "And that actually worked out for us in the end; we're under budget and the system meets or exceeds all of the specifications we had in mind."
Hopefully, Fort Lee community members won't overlook the AFAP angle either. That's the service-wide program that allows members of the Army Family to voice their recommendations for improving the community's quality of life. The annual forums at the community, major Army command and overall Army levels draw considerable command attention.
The Kenner call center recommendation was voiced in 2009. Community members observed that "service and family members were unable to receive medical appointments in a timely manner through TRICARE. Multiple AFAP issues reflect that appointments have been made directly with the clinic when (the centralized system) indicated they were unavailable."
The proposed solution was to "eliminate" the TRICARE appointment line, and this resulting project is a prime example of the command's support of the process.
"Community input is so important," Norris said. "And that doesn't stop at this stage of the project. We're introducing something that's completely new here, and there will be growing pains as we go along. Some things may not work like we thought they would, and we're asking for our community to have patience and provide constructive feedback in those circumstances. If something works well, tell us so we can continue with that part of it. Our heart is in the right place ... we're determined to make it work for the Kenner community."
On a final note, Norris clarified the instructions for Kenner patients after the Dec. 6 opening of the Patient Appointment Center. Kenner enrollees can still contact the Hampton Roads Appointment Center at 1-866-645-4584, but those calls will be forwarded to Kenner's new PAC. HRAC will not be able to schedule any of Kenner's appointments after Dec. 5. Those who call the new phone number (1-866-LEE-KAHC) directly can schedule appointments Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., except federal holidays. Patients can still book appointments 24-7/365 days at year at www.TRICAREONLINE.com.