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Sharing Resources Means More Health Care, Less Expense

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

SAN DIEGO, July 13, 1999 – TRICARE patients who go to a military clinic or hospital in Southern California might not see a uniformed doctor. Their health care could come instead from a civilian physician employed through the region's managed care support contract.

Under TRICARE Southern California's current contract with Foundation Health Federal Services Inc., civilian health care providers have enabled more than 660,000 outpatient visits and 16,800 admissions at military facilities. Foundation officials project savings of more than $25.5 million this year as a result of 81 current resource-sharing agreements.

"Providing space in our military treatment facilities makes good business sense and is also very beneficial to our patients," said Navy Capt. Kristine Minnick, TRICARE Southern California director. Hospital and clinic funding is determined in part by the number of patients treated. Sharing underused facilities with contractors not only puts space to more effective use, it keeps the patient count up.

From the patients' standpoint, they receive care on the spot because the contractors provide many medical services and specialties that wouldn't be available in their military facilities otherwise, Minnick said. If the facility continually referred them off post to Foundation contract doctors, their care almost certainly would cost them more time and money, she noted.

The government and Foundation approve agreements before they take effect, then Foundation recruits staff to fill the requirements, said Scott Childers, director of TRICARE support services for Foundation. Naval Medical Center San Diego enjoys the largest number of agreements negotiated so far -- 38, but nearly every hospital and clinic in the region participates. For some, agreements reduce dependence on distant civilian medical facilities.

"Resource sharing here is a big success," said Army Dr. (Col.) Michael McCaffrey, commander of Weed Army Community Hospital at Fort Irwin, Calif. Under a resource-sharing agreement, a civilian allergist sees patients at Weed. Otherwise, patients would have to travel 50 or more miles to get the care they need. The allergist ensures troops aren't gone as long from their duties, and families get the care they need easier and cheaper, McCaffrey said.

Military and civilian health care providers share resources here more than anywhere else in the worldwide Military Health System, Minnick said. Her Foundation counterpart, Peter McLaughlin, said the agreements worked out to date "go beyond partnering -- to teamwork."

"Resource sharing is a primary example of the teamwork that exists between us," said McLaughlin, vice president of California TRICARE Operations for Foundation. "The program is robust. It provides personnel, supplies and equipment to military treatment facilities and maximizes the use of those facilities."

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