SAN ANTONIO, Texas –
No matter the company or service, calling customer service is often a stress inducer -- especially for those who have encountered extensive hold times, multiple transfers and endless elevator music.
While lengthy wait times are all too common, San Antonio’s military health system is quickly becoming the exception to the rule when it comes to appointment booking.
The San Antonio Market Consult and Appointment Booking Management Office, commonly known as CAMO, has been working diligently to reduce its hold times for referral assistance and medical appointment booking, and the hard work is paying off. In the past year, patient hold times have decreased from over an hour to, most recently, an average of less than 30 seconds.
“This is incredible progress and a testament to the hard work of our CAMO team and their dedication to providing the best patient experience possible,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeannine Ryder, director, San Antonio Market, and commander, 59th Medical Wing. “CAMO paved the way for our market, demonstrating daily the vital importance of teamwork and collaboration.”
CAMO provides primary and specialty care appointing and referral management services to over 255,000 eligible beneficiaries across the region. Each month, the CAMO team manages up to 55,000 inbound calls and 19,000 outbound calls in support of 10 medical facilities and 110 specialty care clinics across the local military healthcare network, said Maurice Allen, deputy director of CAMO.
CAMO has been providing this service since 2004 when local military health leaders first launched a pilot to centralize appointment booking for Brooke Army Medical Center, Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, and their outlying clinics. The pilot was successful, and CAMO formally became one of the Defense Department’s first centralized appointment booking centers in April 2005.
More than a decade later, COVID-19 took center stage and hospitals quickly reached capacity as overtaxed healthcare professionals left the medical field, leading to nationwide staffing shortages and a decrease in appointment availability. Locally, military beneficiaries began experiencing longer than average CAMO hold times due to these staffing challenges coupled with the 2022 implementation of MHS GENESIS, the military’s new electronic health record.
“While we trained and prepared for MHS GENESIS, we still needed hands-on time with the new system to fully adapt, update our processes, and provide feedback on potential improvements,” Allen said.
In conjunction, the MHS GENESIS launch introduced a new patient portal, creating a learning curve for patients and staff who were more familiar with the legacy portal, TRICARE Online, and its appointment booking platform. As a result, CAMO saw an increase in calls for booking and referral assistance, Allen said.
With all factors combined, the hold times started to creep up to over an hour on average, said Allen, noting the hard work that contributed to the current wait time of around 30 seconds.
“This team made a tremendous effort to adapt to MHS GENESIS and to hire and retain exceptional personnel over the past year,” he said. “The progress, particularly with hold times, has been nothing short of amazing.”
The patient portal challenges also eased as the system evolved and patient usage increased.
In conjunction, military health leaders prioritized access to care and hiring initiatives to ensure readily available appointments, which improved the booking process for the CAMO team.
“We’ve made tremendous progress on the hiring front,” said Army Col. Mark Stackle, deputy director, San Antonio Market, and commander, Brooke Army Medical Center. “Thanks to the team’s tremendous efforts, we’ve been able to streamline the hiring process and speed up the onboarding of civilian personnel.”
To date, 665 civilian healthcare professionals have received a final job offer and a start date, he noted.
PROUD TO SERVE
As demonstrated by their progress, the CAMO team takes immense pride in the service they provide to service members, retirees and family members across the region, said Tracy Navarro, CAMO appointing and consult lead.
“This team’s commitment to excellence and tireless efforts is unparalleled,” she said. “Each day, they bring their best selves to the table, pushing boundaries and surpassing expectations.”
Allen agreed. “CAMO is always ready, so we do not have to get ready,” he said. “We serve the best population in the nation and are honored to provide a vital service to our patients and providers.”
For appointment booking or referral services, call CAMO at 210-916-9900 on weekdays between the hours of 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For additional information, visit https://bamc.tricare.mil/Getting-Care/Appointments-Referrals. Callers can expedite the call by having the patient’s DOD ID card and Social Security numbers readily available. Additionally, patients are welcome to follow up on their referrals by calling CAMO three to five days after their appointment.
To access the MHS Genesis patient portal for 24/7 appointment booking, visit https://my.mhsgenesis.health.mil/. For frequently asked questions about the portal, to include registration, visit https://www.health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Technology/MHS-GENESIS/Frequently-Asked-Questions/MHS-GENESIS-Patient-Portal.
For information on navigating after-hours medical care, refer to the San Antonio Market Access to Care Guide at https://bamc.tricare.mil/Portals/143/documents/Resources/Access-to-Care-Brochure.pdf.