CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — Living with pain in your neck or back can be irritating, if not almost debilitating.

To help return patients to a pain-free life as quickly as possible, the Neurosurgery Clinic at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa has drastically cut the time they must wait before being seen in the clinic, which sees patients with problems ranging from skull and spine fractures and brain tumors to back and neck pain.

Lt. Cmdr. Robert Rosenbaum, Neurosurgery’s department head, said when he first arrived at the hospital, patients waited an average of almost 50 days to be seen. Now, he said, it’s same day-service.

Rosenbaum said he’d heard reports that the wait had been two months. “At that time, there was a significant amount of unhappiness with the wait time.”

So he and his staff began seeking ways they could make the clinic more efficient. He said he first analyzed how many appointments were logged each month, and how many new referrals. Result: a decision to speed service by creating more appointments.

The number of patients wasn’t expanding that rapidly “so we only had to add several appointments per week,” Rosenbaum said. But decreasing the wait time still took longer than he’d originally expected, he said: a year to decrease it to less than 10 days, another six months to get to no waiting.

Also helping to shrink the lag between making and getting appointments: streamlining the clinic’s administrative processes. The clinic’s leading petty officer, Petty Officer 2nd Class April Few, devised a business plan including a way to speed receiving X-ray results.

“We have to have radiographs … having (X-ray) film is the second most important thing next to meeting the patient,” Rosenbaum said. “The corpsmen are really responsible … they made it happen.”

Procedures for dealing with back pain also have been improved, he said. In the past, people with back problems had to be seen in the clinic before getting other care, such as physical therapy.

Getting to physical therapy used to take up to 10 weeks, Rosenbaum said. But educating primary care physicians has speeded the process.

“I personally talked to between 70 to 80 percent of providers and laid out for them the treatment of people with neck and back pain,” he said. “They now know what (patient) history to take, what physical exam to do and what films (X-rays) to take.” Now, he said, patients “can go to physical therapy first.”

The clinic also is starting a community outreach program — Think First — to educate the public about the importance of wearing protective headgear, Rosenbaum said, adding that he hopes the section will begin making presentations in Department of Defense Dependents Schools this fall.

“We are extremely proud of the Neurosurgery team here,” said Navy Capt. Susan Chittum, director of Surgical Services. “The most important point is the tremendous concentration placed on patient care, patient satisfaction and patient safety by the entire Neurosurgery staff.

“Their focus on rapid access to the clinic results in a speedy return to the line and offers prompt relief for the patients and their families, and supports the command missions here on Okinawa.”

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