Communication Works to reduce Missed Appointments

By Dan BarberNaval Hospital Twentynine Palms

121003-N-QV661- HM2 Rachel Prince, optometry technician at Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms speaks to a U.S. Marine. The Optometry Department only sees active duty patients at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, but remains one of the busiest in the hospital. (Official U.S. Navy Photo by Dan Barber)

Showing up late or not showing up at all for medical appointments is an ongoing challenge for most military treatment facilities. In 2010 the average monthly appointment “no-show’ rate was 10 percent at Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms (NHTP).  This rate translated into about 120 empty appointments each month that could have been used by other beneficiaries.

Empty appointment slots also represent a potential loss of productivity each month which could cause the demand for health care to be underestimated at this command, which ultimately would negatively affect resource allocation.  

In response, the leadership of the hospital decided that it needed to communicate to the patients how important it is for them to use their medical benefit properly.

A campaign was started to educate the beneficiaries using multiple communications channels, with the core message to family members and retirees,  that missing medical appointments is ‘socially unacceptable’ and for the active duty to reemphasize that missing medical appointments can lead them to be non-deployable.

On a daily basis at NHTP the Command Master Chief communicates to the Marine Corps enlisted leaders at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) about Marines or Sailors missing appointments which could lead to those members being unfit for deployment.

Brigadier General George Smith, Jr., Commanding General MCAGCC and Sergeant Major Matthew Brookshire fully support the efforts of the Naval Hospital and fully understand the importance of beneficiaries properly using their medical benefit and not squandering that valuable medical asset.

Since October 2010 the hospital’s monthly newsletter “The Examiner” has a running statement placed on its front page to inform readers about the number of missed appointments and the percentage they represented for all available appointments during the reporting period. Also, early each week-day available open appointments in Family Medicine and Pediatrics, along with the stats for missed appointments for the previous day’s clinics, are posted on the command’s Face Book page to inform patients of appointment availability and to help the command optimize clinic appointments. Usually within an hour of posting, this message gets over 100 views.

The command, under the leadership of Captain Jay Sourbeer, MC, USN, uses every opportunity to inform the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center’s leadership about how important it is for every eligible beneficiary to keep their medical appointment.

During the first year of this campaign, missed appointments decreased to an average of 7.4 percent, this year this average is down to 5.9 percent.

To maintain optimal patient care, Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms will keep these channels of communication open and updated daily.