CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — To better serve patients and reserve the emergency room only for those in need of urgent care, U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa has installed a new after-hour phone service.

The Okinawa Clinical Answering Service, which launched Oct. 1, operates only when the various naval medical clinics are closed – evenings, weekends and holidays – according to Amanda Woodhead, hospital spokeswoman.

Woodhead said the phone line was established to “assist patients with medical concerns after hours that can not wait until the clinic reopens the following business day and are pertinent enough to require advice at once, but not ... enough to require emergency room care.”

Anyone entitled to direct care at any military facility, who is registered in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, can use the new phone service — a first of its kind on Okinawa.

“Before, patients could utilize the health-care information line to speak with a nurse in the United States for advice,” Woodhead said. “We wanted to provide Okinawa a higher level of care for patients stationed overseas and felt that required a more localized service.”

Woodhead said when an individual calls, a receptionist answers and notes the medical problem. The receptionist then will page the on-call provider – either a doctor or nurse practitioner – who phones the patient, then advises whether to go to the ER or wait to see a primary-care provider the next day.

To use the Okinawa Clinical Answering Service, call 643-4245 from on base. From off base, call 892-5111; then, at the dial tone, enter 643-4245.

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