News: NHCH offers medical help online, scheduling appointments
Story by Christine Cabalo
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII - Any time can be the right time to make a doctor’s appointment or get other basic medical help with Naval Health Clinic Hawaii Online.
The online system, using RelayHealth software, allows patients to privately message non-emergency medical questions, schedule appointments and order medication refills.
The system went online in Hawaii more than two years ago and currently has 4,700 users locally, said Lt. Cmdr. Julie Balensiefen, NHCH clinic manager of the Kaneohe Bay Branch. However, just 21 percent of Tricare beneficiaries have enrolled online to use it.
“Many issues can be taken care of via telephone or secure messaging,” Balensiefen said. “With RelayHealth, their message always gets through, even if they send it in the middle of the night. However, they are only answered during regular business hours.”
Patients with a RelayHealth account can submit three time periods they’ll be available for appointments, and healthcare providers know to focus on those scheduling options.
The online system is part of a Department of Defense effort for Patient-Centered Medical Homes, providing care for patients under organized medical teams. More than 400 military treatment facilities have already adopted the team principles or are working to implement them, according to the Defense Health Agency’s website.
More than 200 Camp H.M. Smith patients have accounts with NHCH Online, said Lt. Cmdr. Marsha Collins, NHCH clinic manager for the Camp H.M. Smith Branch. Each month approximately five to 10 new users sign up for new online accounts.
“It’s been successful with our patients and now they can communicate a lot more,” Collins said. “Healthcare providers can often get a lot of drive-by appointments, and this is more efficient.”
Collins said medical personnel offer more coordinated healthcare for Marines and sailors routinely traveling.
She has observed how the online system helps when patients are on temporary duty assignments or relocating out of state. In some cases she’s come across, Collins has been able to coordinate medical consultations and assist patients continuing physical occupational therapy at other medical treatment centers by communicating through NHCH Online.
“It helps access the medical care and makes you think outside of the box,” Collins said. “For so long medically, we’ve thought that to be health wise you needed physical access to care. This is not your typical or traditional appointment.”
Both Collins and Balensiefen said the new internet-based system is unique because users can access basic information about healthcare with it. RelayHealth features a series of medical articles on healthcare topics. For some health concerns, like spinal nerve pain from sciatica, the online system offers videos explaining the condition.
Patients can also request lab results using the online service. Balensiefen said the system doesn’t replace standard medical files but offers a secured, detailed record for patients to easily access.
“When I first started using (RelayHealth) three or four years ago, patients thought their messages would get lost,” Balensiefen said. “Their messages will not go into a black hole. It will work, and we check for messages throughout the day.”
Balensiefen said the online service is a great tool but doesn’t replace going to see medical professionals in person in emergency situations.
“Although most messages (receive a response) within the next business day, the clinic staff have 72 business hours to complete and respond to the message,” she said. “This is why it’s very important that urgent and emergent matters are not addressed via secure messaging.”
Yet for those who’ve developed a heavy case of medical curiosity or need to schedule an appointment, the new online system could be the cure.
For more information, see http://www.med.navy.mil/sites/nhch/MedicalHome/Pages/default.aspx.