News: VTANG Medical Group pilots processing program
Story by Staff Sgt. Victoria Greenia
SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. - The 158th Medical Group has become the first Air Guard base to process both Preventative Health Assessments (PHA) and Occupational Health Physical Examinations (OHE) in one large push, improving the medical experience for both the medical staff and patients, while creating a cost-saving and efficient format for other units to emulate.
During a typical drill weekend, the Vermont Air National Guard’s medical staff would process a little more than 200 Airmen through yearly PHAs and OHEs, pre-deployment screenings, and profile updates. This system left both care-providers and patients unsatisfied as the process took up so much time. The staff had difficulty fulfilling training requirements and attending meetings while patients had, on average, upwards of a two to three hour wait, sometimes just for a 10-minute visit.
Change was needed. A great deal of planning spanning nearly a year including visits to shadow other units during their PHA/OHE process resulted in a completely overhaul the old system, using the extended June drill to test out a reimagined process.
“I don’t know why we didn’t do it before,” said Lt. Col. Jack Cook, a physician assistant at the 158th Fighter Wing. “In the past our patients would get hung up in the waiting area behind members who needed more extensive testing like audiograms and electrocardiogram testing.”
The Medical Group modeled the process after other Guard bases have previously done, but tweaked it to fit the unique needs of Airmen working on F-16s. The medical group took care of more than 900 Airmen’s yearly PHAs in just two days. The average time for a patient: 30 minutes from entering the building to checking out and continuing their workday. The quickest was six minutes, and the longest was about 45 minutes. Airmen who went through the process said they were surprised and described it as “quick” and “easy.”
The medical staff worked in 12 hour shifts starting at 7:00 a.m., some until 9 p.m. on the first day. Branching across the base, the medical group assembled Airmen who needed a basic annual PHA in the Snow Barn, a large winter vehicle facility, which was transformed into an elaborate medical station. There patients were seen for screening, dental exams and a visit with a medical provider. Those who required the more involved occupational exams were seen at the base clinic.
To further expedite the process, the medical group contracted a portable dental unit and audiogram unit. Hearing tests are mandatory for Airmen who work around large machines, such as aircrafts, and take 20 minutes to do. On base there are about 400 Airmen who require having annual hearing checks.
“Normally we can test up to three people at a time,” said Master Sgt. Eric Holbrook, the noncommissioned officer in charge of public health. “So even at our quickest we can only process about nine people an hour. The portable audiogram testing seats eight at a time, so we were able to process 32 people an hour.”
Although there hasn’t been an official report yet, Cook said he was certain that if one adds up the cost of the man-hours in the old system against the cost of renting portable units to process a larger amount of Airmen, the wing not only saved money, but also ensured medical readiness for the VTANG.
This is a huge deal for both the medical group and the base, said Holbrook, who said that Air National Guard bases are expected to have 80 percent of its Airmen medical-ready for deployment and that the VTANG has been just shy of the goal, lingering at a 79 percent.
According to Cook, he thought the new system put the base, at least from a medical perspective, at a 90 percent readiness, but didn’t have hard numbers to confirm that just yet. They knew they wouldn’t be able to get everyone because of scheduling conflicts, but the bulk of the unit has been processed.
“Now that we’ve completed our new process, we hope to only use a quarter of the time processing Airmen over drill weekends, instead of the eight hours or more that we have in the past,” said Cook. “It’s a major success because now our nurses and emergency medical technicians will have an easier time working with Fletcher Allen Health Care to keep up with training.”