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Jan 24, 2011
By Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2011 -- Additions to the TRICARE military health plan's website are giving beneficiaries easier access to their personal health data, more convenient appointment scheduling and better communication with their health care providers, the top TRICARE official reported.

TRICARE Online, the military health system's patient portal, already enables users who get care at a military treatment facility to schedule appointments, track their medications, order prescription refills and view and even download their personal health records, Navy Rear Adm. (Dr.) Christine S. Hunter told American Forces Press Service.

Later this year, patients also will be able to get their laboratory and X-ray results through the portal, along with secure messaging from their health care providers, Hunter said.

"You will be able to go there and it will say you have two messages from your doctor," she explained. "You will click on it, and it may be the nurse telling you that you are overdue for something, and maybe a lab result and an explanation of the findings."

The next goal will be to expand these capabilities so beneficiaries can track what immunizations they received and when, and get a "heads up" from their health care provider when they're due for their next one, she said.

Meanwhile, TRICARE plans to increase the number of clinics that offer online appointment scheduling and tailor the process to offer the broadest selection of openings so beneficiaries can select what's most convenient for them.

In addition, health care providers will begin using the portal to get patients to fill out forms and questionnaires at their convenience before they arrive for their appointments.

TRICARE Online offers the best of both worlds, Hunter said. It helps to build a closer relationship between beneficiaries and their health care providers while taking advantage of technology and health care tools to make that relationship more convenient and accessible 24/7.

Beneficiaries increasingly are taking advantage of the new capability. Almost 311,500 active users have logged into the system over the past year, officials reported, with an average of 2,800 new user registrations each week.

Since January 2010, beneficiaries have scheduled almost 200,000 medical appointments and requested more than 61,500 prescription refills through the system. During the week of Jan. 9 to 16 alone, they scheduled almost 3,000 appointments and refilled more than 1,000 prescriptions.

TRICARE officials also report increased use of the "blue button" feature that enables beneficiaries to access their personal health data and, if they choose, save it to a file on their computer. Since Sept. 25, 2010, officials reported more than 4,000 downloads in .pdf format and more than 1,700 downloads in .txt format. Last week's figures show 486 .pdf downloads and 187 .txt downloads.

Hunter said this feature is particularly helpful because it enables beneficiaries to download their records when they need to seek medical care away from their regular health care facility, and empowers them to better partner with providers about the treatment they receive.