TRICARE closed all walk-in customer service locations as of April 1, 2014 , but smartphone-enabled patients may not even notice the difference, thanks to a new mobile app from The Center of Excellence for Medical Multimedia (CEMM).
Launched in December 2013, the Virtual Medical Center (VMC) app seeks to address the needs of service members and their families who need TRICARE customer service attention on the go. The app is divided by 4 menus: Education, MTF Locator, TRICARE Plans, and News.
The CEMM states that through what it calls patient activation , patients will be assisted in developing “self-management skills and behaviors to successfully manage their conditions and diseases.” This section arms patients with knowledge about their medical condition(s) and addresses an education gap, which often prevents individuals from asking the right questions.
The Ask Provider section guides patients through question and answer checklists to review with their health care providers. Each list (Before a Test or Procedure, When a New Medication is Prescribed, To Talk About a Health Problem, Pediatric Questions) is populated with questions the patient may not have come up with on his or her own. If none of these lists are applicable, the user may add a new list. Each question can be added, deleted, or edited; the spaces created for each question may be dragged to enlarge or compress, allowing room to type answers to the questions or design follow-up questions. In the edit view, questions may even be dragged and dropped to reorder the sequence and personalize it for the user. This requires a bit of tech savvy, but once the technique is understood, these lists become easy to personalize.
Immunization schedules are clearly organized by age group, “Birth – 18 years” and “Adult.” Prescription medications can be added by scrolling through the prescription glossary, searching by name, or by adding one manually. The user may track specific notes for each medication and can set reminders to take the medication, which link through to the phone or iPad to alert the user.
The Medical Animation Library section is perhaps the most impressive element found in the app and an apparent jewel of the CEMM. For general knowledge or after a patient is diagnosed, users can open the animation library and watch a short clip on medical conditions and procedures, organized alphabetically, from angiocardiography all the way through to valvuloplasty, with 103 additional topics in between.
Results are listed from nearest to furthest and include the name of the facility, phone numbers, an option to get directions (which automatically plugs the address into the mobile device’s map app), and a link to visit the facility’s website. There is even an option for the facility to be added to the user’s contacts list.
The TRICARE Plan Finder is an incredibly helpful tool to determine the most likely plan options the beneficiary and his or her family members may qualify to use. CEMM notes that the Plan Finder does not determine TRICARE eligibility, which is determined by the uniformed services.
After answering a series of 7 questions, a list of plans that the user may be eligible to enroll in displays. An option to compare the plans is offered, which populates a sophisticated table, exportable to Microsoft Excel. Note, having Medicare Part A requires the beneficiary to have Medicare Part B to remain eligible for TRICARE.
An added bonus in the CEMM VMC app is the TRICARE-oriented news feed, which provides web links to the TRICARE Communications newsletter, keeping users up-to-date on what’s going on in this major part of the Military Health System. Similar news may be accessed online at http://www.tricare.mil/About/MediaCenter/News.aspx.
We found the website was a stronger platform for the MTF locator, housing a search by zip code function, whereas the app only searches by state. And although the CEMM VMC app couldn’t possibly host every bit of information on TRICARE—it would just be too big—we were frustrated to be frequently routed to a browser.
The CEMM VMC app is just one piece of a larger puzzle, addressing many but not all needs of its users. No matter how thorough and seamless any program may be, nothing replaces the personal touch of the face-to-face interaction when someone offers individualized guidance. This app is more of a launch pad than a comprehensive tool, but it functions well and does everything it claims to do.
A full list of apps, all of which serve different purposes, is available at http://www.tricare.mil/About/GoPaperless/MobileApps.aspx. Additional TRICARE customer service may be accessed at http://www.tricare.mil or by calling the following toll-free numbers:
Health Net Federal Services, LLC
Humana Military, a division of Humana Government Business
UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans