CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — Active-duty servicemembers with asthma may be able to breathe easier thanks to and asthma-improvement initiative at the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.

The program the hospital’s Pulmonary/Critical Care clinic devised last year was deemed a Best Business Practice during a recent inspector general visit. The program also is being recommended as a Navy-wide standard.

Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Murphy, head of the PCC unit, said many people have asthma but don’t know it. Many learn once they reach Okinawa, with all its “triggers” — mold, coral dust, pollen, dust mites, smoke and fumes, pets, roaches and nasty weather. Murphy said as long as the asthma can be controlled and the servicemember can perform normal duties and not let the asthma affect physical performance, they may remain on active duty.

The decision to revamp how active-duty asthma patients were treated was made after clinic members examined the statistics that showed long wait times for treatment, Murphy said. In fiscal 2002, six patients were treated 120 days or more after being referred to the Pulmonary Function Lab, 30 patients were seen 90 days later, 20 patients couldn’t be fit in until 30 days after; just four patients were seen in less than 20 days. Most of those patients then missed weeks, even months of work, slashing unit productivity and decreasing readiness, Murphy said.

“Our mission is to support operational readiness and promote, maintain and restore the health of those we serve,” Murphy said. He noted that since the new clinic began, 100 percent of patients are seen within 72 hours and make just one trip to the clinic.

Under the old system, primary care providers referred patients to the Pulmonary Function Lab for testing. Weeks or months would elapse before patients could be seen; once they were, the test had to be read and then sent back to the provider. The patient then might be sent back to the lab for further testing or treatment.

Now, patients must be seen within three days of referral. Once at the clinic, it’s one-stop shopping, said Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Meyers, PCC division officer. New patients come in, the paperwork begins and the patient is given a Pulmonary Function Test to see how well the lungs are working, he said. Using the results of the test, or after further testing, it’s determined whether the patient has asthma or another medical problem. If it looks like asthma, the patient’s vital signs are taken and next they see Murphy, who performs an examination.

After the examination, Murphy sends the patient to the pharmacy and has them come back to the clinic to be taught how to use their medications.

“Educating them is one of the most important things to do,” said Murphy, who has asthma himself. “We teach them how to use the medications because if they don’t use them properly, it won’t do them any good.”

After the first visit, patients have an open invitation to walk into the clinic any time they need to, Meyers said.

In addition to cutting the gap between referral and testing, the clinic also decreased the time servicemembers spend away from their sections. Instead of spending weeks or months off the job, now 98 percent of the patients return to duty within days.

“It’s more work for us but a lot more efficient for the patient, and that’s the important part,” Meyers said.

Next on the list for the clinic staff, he said: expanding the one-stop service to family members, retirees and Department of Defense Dependents Schools personnel.

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