Medical Command upgrades healthcare in Europe

Construction of the new clinic being built at Grafenwöhr, Germany, began last year. In addition to increasing the existing facility's size to accommodate a growing population, it will integrate key aspects of Europe Regional Medical Command's new clinic-centric concept. (Artist rendering courtesy Europe Regional Medical Command)

HEIDELBERG, Germany - The Europe Regional Medical Command (ERMC), which is responsible for providing health care of all Army and some Department of Defense beneficiaries in Europe, is adopting the civilian approach to patient care. The new way ERMC is conducting business is the clinic-centric concept, moving away from the decades-old practice where the hospital is the center of care.

"In the past, our clinics were staffed with family practice and general medical officers providing basic primary care. All other care was referred out, either to our own or host nation hospitals," said Brig. Gen. Carla Hawley-Bowland, ERMC Commander. "This new and proven approach offers our beneficiaries a wider spectrum of care by adding appointments for pediatrics, psychiatry, optometry, audiology, physical therapy, and internal medicine within our clinics."

Making the clinic the patients' center of health care eliminates their need to travel long distances for specialty appointments. Hawley-Bowland's concept is that healthcare specialists will travel from a regional medical hub to the outlying clinics to provide that care. A patient who needs specialty care receives an appointment and is seen at their home clinic the day the doctor comes to town.

"By increasing the specialty access at our clinics, we are expanding health care benefits," Hawley-Bowland said. "We will continue to rely on our excellent host nation facilities for sub-specialty and inpatient care." She also stated that through the hub concept, physicians and specialists end up seeing more patients while at the same time maintaining their own skills.

Under the new plan, each of the clinics is equipped with standardized medical equipment and has adequately sized exam and ancillary spaces. By standardizing the clinics, the traveling specialists will find the same treatment layout no matter which facility they are working in.

Bamberg, Schweinfurt, Illesheim, Würzburg, Katterbach, Hohenfels and Vilseck are the first clinics to move toward the clinic-centric concept, with the regional medical hub located at Grafenwöhr. Multi-phased construction projects will more than double the size of the current Grafenwöhr facility. Next year, the consolidated health and dental clinic will have a total of thirty-one dental chairs (currently 10), and will include new optometry services and physical therapy.

Hawley-Bowland said, to make the concept work, some of the older clinics will require upgrades. ERMC spent a combined $4 million on the Katterbach, Hohenfels, and Vilseck Health and Dental Clinics in order to provide additional and optimum space in support of the staff and beneficiaries in these communities. Optometry services were added at Hohenfels with the construction of a new eye lane. The Illesheim Health Clinic will also receive upgrades in the near future.

Increased patient load requires more care providers. Health care providers will be reassigned accordingly to support the clinic-centric model. ERMC personnel officials say reassignments are primarily made based on individual duty transfer dates and end of military service contracts. "We have an opportunity in military health care to take an innovative approach," said Col. Neil Maher, Deputy Commander, ERMC. "Past constraints on personnel and equipment expenditures prevented implementation of some good ideas. It just makes good sense at this time to adjust our thinking and implement some best practices from the civilian health care world."

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