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TRICARE hoping to improve care
'Medical home' also aims to cut costs
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The TRICARE health insurance program is rolling out its new patient-centered “medical home” concept to an increasing number of its beneficiaries, Navy Rear Adm. Dr. Christine S. Hunter, the top TRICARE officer, said Wednesday.
Civilian medicine has embraced the medical home concept, which introduces a team approach to health care and establishes a consistent, long-term relationship between patients and a provider team, Hunter said.
The TRICARE Management Activity began introducing the concept last year. Already, 655,000 of its 9.5 million beneficiaries are enrolled in the medical home concept. Hunter’s goal is to increase that number to 2 million by the end of 2011. Within the next several years, she said, she hopes to see as many as 3 million beneficiaries in enrolled in the concept.
The Air Force was the first service to begin introducing the concept through its Family Health Initiative. The Navy followed with its Medical Home Port. The Army followed with its Army Home for Health program, which focused initially on wounded warriors but now has expanded.
In addition, 750 TRICARE network providers are now certified as medical homes.
In some cases, participation is voluntary, with facilities offering beneficiaries the option to join as medical home teams are set up. In other cases, entire sites have transformed into medical homes, with all of their beneficiaries assigned to medical care teams.
Regardless of how the concept is introduced, Hunter called it a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Patients are assigned to a medical home team that typically consists of a doctor, a physician’s assistant, a nurse and medical technicians. Together, they partner with the patient to support a comprehensive health care plan, Hunter said.
This improves the patient experience, she added, by fixing what many beneficiaries call a shortcoming of TRICARE as well as many other health-care programs: never seeing the same health-care provider twice.
That too often puts patients in the position of having to explain and re-explain the same issue or concerns to every new doctor, Hunter said. As a result, she explained, they were likely to focus only on immediate concerns — what brought them into the doctor’s office — instead of long-term health maintenance and wellness goals.
Under the medical home concept, every member of the provider team has access to the beneficiary’s medical records, and works collaboratively with the rest of the team to provide the best care possible, she said.
When patients visit a hospital or clinic or call in with a question or concern, they see or talk to a member of that team — not another health-care provider who steps in because the patient’s provider is unavailable. And if the patient needs to be referred to a specialist, the team makes the referral and tracks the results.

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