Navy virtual health care set to expand

SAN DIEGO - A major switch in philosophy could change the way local military members and their families receive their health care.

Amid the realities of rising medical costs and shrinking defense budgets, the U.S. Navy is going virtual.

During a recent San Diego visit, Navy Surgeon General Matthew Nathan said, "The only time you'll have to go see a doctor is when you are really sick."

For more than two years, the Navy has been assigning each beneficiary to a team, including doctors, nurses and case managers.

Through a secure messaging system, patients can email their team about symptoms they're feeling, schedule appointments, request lab results and even renew prescriptions.

The sailors and their families also get alerts about preventative tests that are due.

"We need to keep the patient well, so they don't need to see us as much. They don't need to go to the ER," said Lt. Commander Dr. Sunny Ramchandani,

The savings are needed. In the past decade, military medical costs have jumped from $19 billion to $52 billion.

The computer- and smartphone-friendly philosophy continues to expand, expanding to 50 facilities in the Navy in the next few months. There will be pilot programs on ships and on Marine Corps bases.

Navy officials told 10News live video exams are also being tested.      

However, not everyone is happy about the changes.

Sailor John Ochetti just found out about a June positive test for hyperthyroidism.

"Apparently, one of the people running the email for the health care services fell down on their job and didn't notify me whatsoever," said Ochetti.

Navy officials concede the system hasn't been perfect -- say in general, access to doctors is greatly improved and point to one tangible result -- a significant increase in the number of preventative screenings.

The Navy says the urgency of the emails are prioritized, but a response usually comes within a few days.

Navy officials said the emails can be used to determine if the patient should go in for testing or an exam.

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