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CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — Starting in April, patients not on active duty who are due for eye exams and care at the naval optometry clinic will be referred to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s eye care center on Kadena Air Base, officials said.

The temporary shift in services will run through Aug. 1 and is one of several changes U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa is implementing as it braces for a transitory reduction in staff as sailors and Marines change duty stations this summer, said the hospital’s commanding officer, Navy Capt. Brian Dawson.

Dawson said the naval optometry clinic will still accept walk-in emergency patients. The AAFES eye care center accepts Tricare patients and does not require doctor referrals for exams or prescriptions, he said.

At a town hall meeting Thursday, Dawson introduced the new measures and addressed concerns from patients.

The forum was the first held by the hospital.

"We’re trying to target access to places we know are in high need," Dawson said.

Other updates include:

A new automated telephone prescription refill system has been activated to ensure patients can refill medications ready for pick-up within two days.Pharmacy operating hours have been adjusted to meet demand.Immunization clinic hours will be primarily appointment-based; walk-in service is still available, although appointments will have priority. To make an appointment, call 643-7441.Dawson said officials were trying to improve coordination between Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific nurses to cut down on confusion about updating student records and decreasing wait times for immunizations at base clinics.

The hospital is also examining ways to improve access to setting appointments after receiving complaints about long wait times and dropped calls, he said.

The hospital is considering increasing the number of phone trunk lines, establishing a central appointment phone line or creating an online system, Dawson said.

"It’s a problem," Dawson said. "I hope to have a solution by June because it’s an issue."

Construction on the new hospital, to be built on Camp Foster, is expected to begin in the next couple of months, Dawson said.

According to the Navy Medicine West Okinawa Detachment, the 443,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to be completed in March 2011, with the outfitting and personnel move to occur in October 2011.

Dawson said another town hall meeting will be held in May.

Patients are encouraged to report concerns to customer relations at 643-7209 or complete an Interaction Customer Evaluation survey by visiting www.oki.med.navy.mil.

Automatic Rx refill system launched

This month, U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa launched a new automated phone refill system and new outpatient pharmacy operating hours.

The hours are:

Monday through Friday: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.Saturday: 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.Sunday and holidays: closedTo refill a prescription, call 643-1111.

Prescriptions may be picked up within two working days at branch medical clinics at Camp Lester and Marine Corps bases in Okinawa. For contact information for the hospital’s clinics, visit www.oki.med.navy.mil.

Source: U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa

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