NEWS | Feb. 28, 2013

Lowcountry Federal Healthcare Alliance improves patient care

By Petty Officer 1st Class Chad Hallford Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

The Lowcountry Federal Healthcare Alliance has been developing health care sharing opportunities and enhanced patient care for Department of Defense and Department of Veteran Affairs beneficiaries throughout the greater Charleston area since 2006.

The collaborative efforts among the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, the Naval Health Clinic Charleston at Joint Base Charleston - Weapons Station, the 628th Medical Group at JB Charleston - Air Base, and the Naval Hospital Beaufort, are expanding patient access to care and services, enhancing continuity and quality of care for active-duty service members, DOD and VA beneficiaries, while effectively managing health care resources of the LFHA.

The bottom line for health care consumers: patients may be seen in clinics where VA and DOD staff work side-by-side to deliver care, and because of shared services, patients may be seen in clinics closer to home.

"I think that during the past seven years we have learned each organization has much to bring to the table," said Ray Segers, Department of Veterans Affairs liaison.

"One of our biggest challenges is providing a seamless health care system that is transparent to our active-duty service members and our veterans," said Segers. "We are able to do that through collaboration with our subject matter experts and by sharing our resources."

With funding provided by the DOD and VA, LFHA provides improved technologies for medical diagnoses, including cardiology and radiology services, mobile Magnetic Resonance Imaging, hematology, urology and pharmacy services. Since funding does not allow purchases for additional medical equipment, sharing services becomes an even more important factor in improved patient care.

"For example, the joint-incentive funded MRIs at NHCC and Naval Hospital Beaufort would not be possible without the LFHA," said Sharon Winkler, NHCC Director of Health Care Business. "And, through the picture archiving and communication system, VA patients can have the imaging procedure performed here [at NHCC] and have it electronically sent downtown to Ralph Johnson, entered into VA records and read by VA radiologists."

"Likewise, for our coastal-Georgia VA patients, the Beaufort MRI provides a convenient, time-saving and cost-effective location to have these procedures done, minimizing the burden of driving excessive distances for many of our patients," said Segers.

Prior to the alliance, outsourcing of many of these procedures to civilian facilities increased the cost of health care and resulted in delays in entering test results into medical records, delaying diagnosis and treatment.

"It's a lifelong process to provide quality care for people," said Navy Capt. Mary Kenney-Gutshall, NHCC commanding officer and LFHA director. "The partnership with our colleagues ... is critical for Navy medicine and the Military Health System to sustain health care as we move forward ... as our active-duty service members become veterans, it is truly a partnership.

"It's a blended staff ... our voluntary structure as a business has become the gold standard, the chartered alliance-joint venture is a unique, win-win scenario," said Kenney-Gutshell.

For any questions regarding capabilities within the LFHA, contact your primary medical provider or 794-6000.