Thursday, April 30, 2015

LEARN: Navigating the Military Medical System, Part 1

Navigating an enormous medical bureaucracy is not simple, but it helps if you know some basic elements to begin.  While you may not have raised your right hand and taken an oath, you now are part of the military medical system.  (More about the pros/cons of that role in another blogpost.) 

If you're new to the military system, there is an entirely new language of acronyms and chain of command to understand.  You’ll become familiar with these terms and learn them over time, but as the caregiver and advocate, your role is to support the best communication and care possible for your family member. 

Excellent communication is critical, especially at the acute stage of an injury when things are moving very fast and you are still reeling from that phone call.  If you're an older caregiver and haven't had to deal with the military medical system for years, you also have a sharp learning curve, but ask questions and keep asking them until you obtain an answer.

Practice proactive documentation.  Create a notebook or carry a journal and keep it accessible.  Record all appointments, referrals, visits, names, dates, care team changes, and new appointments or practitioners. This notebook or series of journals becomes your documented timeline and invaluable since it recalls details for you when you’re exhausted, overwhelmed, or have been in the medical system a long time.

Keep medical records on a thumb drive besides using the paper, images, and electronic records both the DoD and VA use.  Recognize that though changes are coming, there is not yet a seamless transition between both agencies and the records don't consistently mesh with each other. 

After a care team phone call, or an inquiry call you make, follow it with a brief email summarizing the call and any action steps.  You may not feel it necessary at the time, but be wise.  Staff changes, miscommunication and misunderstandings can be avoided or mitigated if you have detailed, accurate records.

Remain calm and civil.  You’ll receive better communication and sometimes, better care if you do.  Burning bridges with those whom you need to help you and your family is a very poor choice.  You are vital to good care, and with proper documentation of your communications and records, there is seldom a problem that cannot be resolved.  Be conscientious and prepared, and you're a step ahead!

Linda Kreter & 
VeteranCaregiver Team