LANDSTUHL, Germany — When Sgt. James Kiezer arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s correspondence office in September, he didn’t like what he saw.
The office had a three-month backlog of medical records requests, and daily complaints from angry patients. It had been that way for years.
But with a few small changes that Kiezer shepherded in after taking over as noncommissioned officer in charge, that backlog of some 490 record requests had been eliminated by early November.
Until late September, the office was printing copies of most medical records and mailing them out, averaging about 120 such print-and-ship jobs a week. Some ran so long, they’d have to be shipped in the boxes the paper came in.
“Sometimes that’ll take the whole day to print,” said Spc. Marvin Broadus, 22, a patient administration specialist from Hopkinsville, Ky. “The entire day.”
Printing is still an option for patients who want a paper copy of their records, but most are choosing a new method — familiar to many who ride a desk — that turns the record into a portable document file, or PDF. The office can burn the digital files to CD or send them to patients through a secure file transfer system.
While military outpatient medical records are available through a worldwide system, each military treatment facility has its own system for inpatient records. Because of a glitch in Landstuhl’s inpatient system, Kiezer said, it couldn’t spit out a usable PDF until September, when the glitch was finally fixed.
That, along with sending records via the internet rather than snail mail, has cut hours off of each request and saved $22,000 in paper and mailing costs since late September. Two of the four soldiers who were assigned to the correspondence office have been reassigned to other sections because there was no longer enough for them to do.
“I never thought we would actually get it to this point, because it was always like that monster that won’t go away,” said Michael Williams, a medical records technician who has worked in the office for three years. “Now, it’s under control.”
Rather than waiting for weeks for records to be printed and mailed, patients wanting a PDF can get their records in days or even minutes.
Two weeks ago, a father requested records for his son, who was born years ago at Landstuhl and was trying to join the military. The son told a doctor at the enlistment center he thought he had a heart condition. That turned out not to be the case, but the doctor needed proof.
“So the father e-mailed me,” said Kiezer, 30, of El Paso, Texas.
Kiezer pulled up the record, made a PDF and sent it through Safe Access File Exchange, a file transfer system used by the Army to send sensitive information. Just 15 minutes after the request arrived in Kiezer’s inbox, the father had the record in Albuquerque, N.M. He e-mailed Kiezer back to say his son was “good-to-go.”
The days of 10 complaints a day — which Kiezer had to answer individually — are gone, he said.
Instead, in one two-week period, the correspondence office received 23 positive comments from patients, said Sgt. 1st Class Enrique Rios, 36, noncomissioned officer in charge of the hospital’s medical records branch.
“Some people do this to get recognized, to get awards and stuff,” Kiezer said. “I had no intentions of doing it for that. I just wanted to quit hearing that printer print constantly all day long.”