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New Patient Advocate System Coming to TRICARE

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Nov. 5, 1999 – Patients in the TRICARE military health care system soon will have a new source of help when they face problems with their care.

Beneficiary counseling and assistance coordinators will be added to the staffs of regional TRICARE lead agent offices and military treatment facilities within the next eight months, according to Dave Bartley of the TRICARE Management Activity.

Full-time employees will fill the regional positions, while the clinic and hospital level slots most likely will be filled on a part-time basis, Bartley said at the TRICARE Communications and Customer Service conference here Nov. 3. He said the regional advocates will have toll-free telephone numbers patients can call if they can't resolve their problems at the local level.

In many cases, the positions already exist under different titles, Bartley said. However, the fiscal 2000 Defense Authorization Act established the new position and title for clarity and to give patients a clear path to help when they need it. Bartley said the legislation will standardize the advocates' services nationwide.

Bartley said he envisions the new advocacy office as a "buck stops here" setup. Once patients elevate their concerns to the new office, they should not have to call anyone else to get their questions answered and problems resolved, he said.

Military hospitals already have patient advocates, and Bartley said the new positions won't take power away from them but add to the overall ability of the military health system to respond to patient needs.

Before the advocacy offices begin business, a new DoD instruction will have to be written, Bartley said. A working group will begin working out details in December, he said.

Patients with problems or questions about their health care should continue to first contact their local health benefits advisers at clinics and hospitals, he said. In addition, each regional TRICARE contractor provides TRICARE enrollees with a toll-free telephone help line. The numbers are provided to enrollees and also are posted on the TRICARE Web page.

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