By Staff Sgt. Ceaira Tinsley, 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 09, 2019
Members of the 39th Medical Support Squadron’s Tricare operations and patient administrations flight pose for a group photo at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Oct. 7, 2019. The TOPA flight created a new patient travel request form process which contributed to saving the wing approximately $34,000 and 1,300 man-hours annually. (U.S. Air Force photo by Joshua Joseph Magbanua)
When faced with the challenge of providing timely and quality care for the Air Force’s most valuable weapons system: the human body, members of the 39th Medical Support Squadron capitalized by putting the power of innovation into the hands of their Airmen who do the job every day.
The 39th MDSS medics created a new patient travel-request form process and contributed to saving the wing approximately $34,000 and 1,300 man-hours annually. This process improved overall patient satisfaction and was recognized as the 39th Air Base Wing’s key innovation for the third quarter.
“Speeding this process up gets patients the care they need when they need it,” said 1st Lt. Benjamin Jennings, 39th Medical Group group practice manager and Tricare operations and patient administrations flight commander. “It’s a great win for us because … we are always refining our process and always improving. For my team to come back and get recognized for it shows them that the process works. People notice that we’re making changes. If they say something’s broken they are my subject matter experts that I need to help fix it.”
Their ability to work as a team created the idea to streamline the patient travel-request form routing process directly to the wing commander and bypass lower levels of leadership. The form authorizes Airmen off-base to obtain medical care beyond the scope of the on-base facility.
With the new process, local leadership are still informed of the request but streamlining the process reduced both administrative work at all levels and extended waiting times. This small change ensured Airmen were able to access quality care in a timely manner.
“The data for this project speaks for itself,” said Tech. Sgt. Andrew McQuary, 39th ABW Continuous Process Improvement practitioner. “Off-base patient referral processing now takes a week or less to get approved by the wing commander, versus the wildly-variable process that was in place before where referrals could take anywhere from two to three weeks.
“Less processing times mean quicker access to specialized care for patients who need it, with less waiting time and less administrative headaches for the patients. The cost and time savings will mean their time and money can be better spent providing increased attention, assistance and care to their patients.”
Process improvements usually do not happen by chance and in this case, the Tricare operations and patient administration section holds a daily meeting for Airmen to discuss problem areas within the system and potential innovations to alleviate those issues at the lowest level.
“Putting the power of innovation into the hands of Airmen accomplishing the work of the Air Force not only increases the overall quantity and quality of ideas the Air Force has to work with, ”McQuary said. “It also instills process ownership into the Airmen who participate. For me, I feel more pride working with processes in which I’ve contributed to creating or improving.”
While this process addresses a situation unique to Incirlik AB, the benefits of empowering one’s Airmen cannot be ignored.
“The process being used at the 39th MDSS is a perfect example of process improvement and innovation in action,”McQuary said. “The team identified and illustrated an issue, discovered root causes, then implemented countermeasures targeted at these root causes. This sort of methodical but common-sense approach to small-scale improvement is exactly what the Air Force CPI program is dedicated to implementing.”