FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AFNS) — Capt. Jennifer Varney likes to come to work early.
As a family nurse practitioner and family health flight commander at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, she arrives at the base’s Family Health Clinic around 5 a.m. and checks the MiCARE site for any overnight patient emails.
If a patient requested a refill on their medications, she can fill it and let them know. If someone’s results have come back from the lab, she can email them the results. If someone requested an appointment, she can forward it to a technician to schedule a time.
Varney likes the convenience of MiCARE, both for her and her patients.
“I can get my work done and still contact my patients,” she said, adding that it is better than calling them before sunrise. “I’m happy, they’re happy.”
MiCARE, a secure online messaging service between patients and their health care team, allows patients to renew subscriptions, request appointments, receive test and lab results, communicate online with healthcare professionals about non-urgent symptoms, request a copy of their immunization records, and access a large digital library of patient education materials.
Varney’s use of MiCARE does not end in the morning. While she sees patients during the day, her technicians continually check the site and either respond to patient’s inquiries, or seek Varney’s assistance if an online patient needs her to reply quickly.
Varney also encourages her patients to use MiCARE.
“We have brochures (from the Air Force Medical Service),” she said. “I tell them, ‘for convenience, it’s the way to go.’”
Before MiCARE, patients would have to phone into the clinic and responses could take up to three duty days. With MiCARE, patients can receive a response within one duty day.
So far, 9,300 people have enrolled in MiCARE at Maxwell, which is 62 percent of total patients. The patients are active duty, retirees and dependents in and around the area. Varney also uses MiCARE to help college students that are two hours away and save them a long ride for something as simple as a prescription renewal.
To make enrollment easier, the clinic now has a free-standing computer kiosk in the lobby where people can sign up and receive instant access to MiCARE. Patients are prompted to answer a series of security questions that only they would know.
To improve patient access to care, by mid-November, Maxwell AFB will implement patient-initiated web visits. Patients will be able to answer a checklist of symptoms in different categories, like mild colds or injuries, and send their answers to their provider. Nurses like Varney will then decide what course of action to take.
“I can look at it and decide if they need a face-to-face visit or if I should prescribe medications,” she said.
According to Varney, her patients love MiCARE’s education library, where they can request information on topics like knee pain, diabetes or diet plans. They don’t even have to talk to a doctor or nurse to learn about their own health.
“A big part of medicine is education and reassurance,” Varney said. “The library is an empowerment tool for patients.”