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460th MDG campaigns for reducing missed appointments

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- 'An appointment missed by you is an appointment missed by two.'

The phrase describes the missed health care appointments the 460th Medical Group is currently experiencing.

"As a provider, the biggest issue I have with no-shows is that they're taking up an appointment that someone else may need," said Capt. Ashley Cristler, 460th Medical Group physician assistant. "Every time there is a missed appointment, that slot could have been filled by somebody else."

When a member misses their appointment, it affects another patient by not allowing them access to the care they need. Every missed appointment ends up in a secondary appointment being scheduled, taking away future appointment slots for other members.

Team Buckley members are encouraged to attend their appointments to be seen as quickly as possible for medical issues. Prolonging care could cause the issue to become worse, inhibiting a fit-to-fight military.

Missed appointments also cost thousands of dollars each year. Since TRICARE does not bill service members, it can be easy to ignore the negative effects. However, all service members pay when there are no appointments available.

"At the end of the day we, the taxpayers, end up paying the bill," said Maj. Sara Spearing, 460th Medical Group group practice manager. "We are all supposed to be good stewards of public funds. If we fail to do so, we will continue to see serious budget cuts and risk seeing more serious actions such as an increase in out-of-pocket medical expenses for dependents and retirees."

According to Spearing, Team Buckley spends approximately $17,000 each month for all medical appointments, whether the patient is actually seen or not. Funds are wasted each time a patient fails to show.

"An appointment for primary care costs between $70 and $100 per visit," Spearing added. "Oftentimes, we have to send people to Urgent Care if we run out of appointments. Urgent Care costs between $100-$400 per visit, depending on the purpose and what needs to be done during the visit. This makes missing an appointment even more impactful."

Not only do you lose that initial amount, but when you reschedule it takes up another appointment slot, as well, Spearing added. Then, it's double the cost.

How can you help with reducing missed appointments?

Currently, the 460th MDG has an audio reminder system that calls patients two days in advance of their appointments to remind them of their scheduled appointment date and time.  During this call, members have the option to cancel their appointment.  

Along with an appointment reminder, all missed appointments are recorded as a no-show. The list of no-shows is sent out weekly to the members first sergeants. 

In addition, there are alternative ways a patient can receive care for various medical issues besides using face-to-face appointments. These possibilities enable patients to receive help quickly, as well as allow patients that do need an appointment to be seen sooner. Alternative health-care options include the following:

The Nurse Advice Line is a 24-hour on-call service that can prevent unnecessary emergency room visits by providing easy access to medical information and recommendations for treatment. The line is particularly useful for medical issues that arise after duty hours. Beneficiaries can call 720-847-WELL and select the option to speak with the NAL.

MiCare, also known as RelayHealth, is a web-based service that allows providers and patients to communicate securely. The site allows patients to send a message to a provider's office, request prescription refills, request lab or test results, and keep track of referrals. It is also used for updating their personal health conditions, allergies, immunizations, hospitalizations and family health history.

Another option for non-urgent care is to leave a telephone message with the primary care manager's team. The team will respond to the request within 72 duty hours.

If patients know they will not be able to make their appointment, it is highly encouraged they cancel. Patients can cancel up to two hours before their scheduled appointment. This gives other patients needing care enough time to make the appointment and commute to the VA Joint Venture Buckley Clinic.

"Our policy is the member has to cancel two hours prior to their appointment time, which gives us enough time for someone trying to make a same-day appointment, Spearing said. "As long as it's two hours prior, it doesn't become a no-show, it becomes a rescheduled appointment, allowing other patients to be seen."

Although things may come up that prevent patients from attending scheduled appointments, according to Spearing, it's important to be courteous to fellow service members and their family members by canceling a medical appointment in advance. For additional information, or to make, reschedule or cancel an appointment, call 720-847-WELL (9355) or visit TRICARE Online.
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