Surgeon: Best care may be off-base hospital
January 23, 2007
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The command surgeon for U.S. Forces Japan has a message for the U.S.military community: A base hospital isn’t necessarily the best option for higher-level treatment, particularly if you’re injured in an accident or suffer another type of calamity outside the gates.
Military treatment facilities across Japan and Okinawa can stabilize patients, but serious trauma cases often are best handled at larger, better-equipped, major medical centers in nearby communities.
“The quality of Japanese medical care is very good,” said Col. Mark Presson, Yokota’s 374th Medical Group commander and the senior medical adviser for the 5th Air Force. “Our customers don’t have anything to fear. There are many wonderful medical facilities up and down Japan that help us every day. That should comfort all our families.”
That concept often clashes with the natural inclination of many servicemembers, he said.
“Sometimes, our warriors think, ‘I’ve got to get this soldier back home,’” Presson added. “Even in America, that’s a problem. They’ll be hundreds of miles away from base but drive right past U.S. hospitals to get back.”
The U.S. hospital at Yokosuka Naval Base has capabilities beyond the clinical care provided at Yokota, Camp Zama and other bases on the Kanto Plain. On Okinawa, the U.S. Naval Hospital at Camp Lester is the largest overseas naval medical treatment facility and a referral center for the entire Western Pacific.
But issues still can arise for U.S. military personnel and their families in northern Okinawa and in housing areas away from Yokosuka, Presson said.
“If you’re off base, activate the local EMS and dial 119. If you’re on base, it’s 911,” he said. “Our warriors all have benefited from the intervention of the Japanese. They need to trust the Japanese medical system. … They have saved countless lives.”
He said medical airlifts to Hawaii, Okinawa and other U.S. locales remain viable alternatives for military officials when more complicated medical procedures are required and family support structures can aid in rehabilitation.
But when possible, they prefer to handle treatments locally.
“If we can do it in Tokyo, we can sometimes get you back to your family that night,” Presson said. “That has a direct mission impact and it’s very positive.”
Many Japanese hospitals have translators, but serious traumas stemming from accidents tend to transcend language barriers, he added.
“If your arm is hanging off your shoulder, the first question is not, ‘Can they speak English?’ Just get me to a doctor. They can tell what the problem is and treat it, then we’ll think about the translation piece,” he said.
Presson said active-duty servicemembers and their dependents are automatically covered at off-base hospitals under Tricare Prime. Pay patients such as Department of Defense civilians, contractors, Department of Defense Dependents Schools teachers and their dependents, generally aren’t because of varying insurance plans. But the military tries to assist in every case, he said.
He offered some advice for any base community member who winds up in a Japanese ambulance:
“Call us. We’ll make sure you’re well supported,” he said. “Just call your home station and let somebody know. And if you do go to a Japanese hospital, we’ll bring you home as soon as we can.”
Bases focus on serviceMedical providers are keen about improving services and stressing individual needs at U.S. military treatment facilities in Japan and Okinawa. Presson said customer feedback is critical.
“Customer service is a big deal to us,” he said. “We like to think of this as a learning organization. We’re in a continuous improvement cycle. With input from customers, we try to make our services even better.”
USFJ has staged several medical summits in recent years, with officials always holding discussions about enhancing the way they meet patient needs.
“We want to make sure none are dissatisfied,” Presson said. “That can sometimes be tough in … medicine with all its complexities. But it’s always our intent that no person leaves dissatisfied.”