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Staff Sgt. Therasa Carlson and her 23-month-old daughter, Evelynn, check in for a medical appointment last week at Misawa Air Base’s hospital, which recently was named the best Air Force overseas medical treatment facility for 2005.
Staff Sgt. Therasa Carlson and her 23-month-old daughter, Evelynn, check in for a medical appointment last week at Misawa Air Base’s hospital, which recently was named the best Air Force overseas medical treatment facility for 2005. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — There’s no other show in town. Working in isolated northern Japan, hundreds of miles from the next nearest U.S. military base, Misawa’s medics have a tall order to fill: About 10,000 active-duty military personnel, dependents, Defense Department civilians and contractors rely on them for their health care needs.

The Air Force says Misawa’s patients are in good hands, recently naming the 35th Medical Group the best 2005 medical treatment facility among the service’s overseas military hospitals.

“To me, it’s a recognition of each and every individual being on the top of their game because of the breadth of look that this award entails,” said Col. Mary Armour, 35th Medical Group commander.

The Air Force scored the hospital in six areas, including medical readiness, a category gauging percentage of Misawa’s active-duty troops ready to deploy to war; access to care; preventive medicine; customer satisfaction; and electronic systems coding compliance.

“It goes down to the record clerk making sure the chart is available for the patient visit … to how we answer the phone,” Armour said. “Those are individual actions, but it means the team … is working together and doing what’s right for the patient. It validates how hard they’ve been working.”

No paperwork or nomination packet was submitted for the award. Air Staff personnel at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., routinely collect a variety of Air Force medical data via a common network, said Col. Joe Ortega, 35th Medical Group deputy commander.

“Lab data, appointment data, dental data … it’s all in our health care computer,” he said. “Every week or month, it all goes to a central computer back at Air Staff.”

Air Force hospitals in several categories received a composite score based on data collected in 2005. Misawa received the highest score of all hospitals in the Air Force, Ortega noted.

Misawa’s isolation and small staff of 350 may present some unique challenges “because you have a lesser degree of medical capability at the gate,” Armour said. But it’s also “easier for folks to come into the hospital” and be seen, Ortega added.

Navy spouse Beth Knight agreed, saying she liked Misawa’s hospital because “it’s small and friendly.”

“You usually don’t have to worry about being referred to another doctor like you do in the States and going through all that rigamarole,” she said.

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