Military Patients Face Lengthy Wait Times on Tricare Nurse Advice Line

Denise Reynolds, the chief nursing officer at Memorial Hospital West
Denise Reynolds (left), the chief nursing officer at Memorial Hospital West, discusses tactics for the coronavirus drive-thru testing facility with Maj. Mark Sullivan (right), with the Florida National Guard’s medical detachment, March 16, 2020. (U.S. Army photo/Michael Baltz)

Some patients are waiting up to an hour on the Tricare Nurse Advice Line after officials directed those who suspect they have the novel coronavirus to call it instead of walking directly into a clinic, Tricare officials said in a Facebook Live Tuesday.

The 24/7 health care assistance line is seeing such a "larger than usual call volume" that officials are looking to hire more registered nurses and care coordinators, in addition to "streamlining" their processes.

"But think about it this way, one of our own staff members at DHA said he was on the phone for an hour, but it would've taken him a lot longer than an hour to get in a car, drive to a military treatment facility [MTF] or wait in an urgent care lobby to get care," said Regina Julian, Defense Health Agency chief health care optimization division. "So please be patient with us, we're working to improve the nurse advice line."

The increased demand comes after Tricare officials have, per Centers for Disease Control recommendations to limit exposure to other patients, directed those who suspect they have COVID-19 to call the line instead of walking directly into a clinic.

Related: Military Hospitals to Cancel Appointments, Shift to Telehealth in COVID-19 Response

"We're working to streamline our process to eliminate unnecessary steps," Julian said about the nurse line, 1-800-TRICARE. "But we're also rapidly trying to hire a large number of nurses and care coordinators in our nurse advice line."

Her department was holding another meeting about it Tuesday night, she said.

Until then, Julian said MTFs are being directed to shoulder the increased burden on the Nurse Advice Line by offering telephone consultations to those who call their appointment lines.

"So the nurse advice line is just one way to reach your health care team," she said. "It's a great way but, remember, always call your own team or send us a secure message."

Active-duty troops assigned to an MTF need a referral from either the Nurse Advice Line or their primary-care provider to have their urgent care covered by Tricare, she said. All other beneficiaries and active-duty troops in remote areas can self-refer to in-network urgent care facilities, according to the Tricare website.

While Tricare has not yet instituted emergency prescription refills like it did during the California wildfires and other natural disasters, officials have eased the requirements to allow patients to request a refill sooner.

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

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