Until this past Thursday, since becoming a military dependent, I have not sought medical assistance from a civilian medical provider before, with the exception of my cancer treatments (Portsmouth Naval Hospital could not accept me at the time and rerouted me to a civilian Oncologist-all medical expenses covered). My husband and I have been married for 18 years and during those 18 years, we’ve been enrolled under Tricare Prime medical insurance and have always gone to a military clinic or military hospital for treatments, with the exception of Optometry, to keep medical cost and paperwork confusion down.
Late Wednesday night, I was feeling some painful symptoms. So much so that I couldn’t initially find sleep. Maybe this is to spite me for mentioning I conjure sleep quite easily on my last post. I decided to tough it out a bit (personal choice-not saying everybody should) and wait until the morning to call Tricare to set an appointment. Fortunately, sleep did eventually come around 2 am; however, I had to wake up at 5 am to get the kids ready for school.
Unfortunately, the next day, Tricare appointment line could not get me in earlier than first week of October. Tricare Nurse Advice Hotline couldn’t get me in to see a doctor until this week but advised me to seek care from a nearby urgent care clinic, preferably a Tricare network authorized clinic, one of which is Patient First.
From the Tricare website:
Urgent care is care you need for a non-emergency illness or injury. You need urgent care treatment within 24 hours, and you shouldn’t have to travel more than 30 minutes for the care. You typically need urgent care to treat a condition that:
- Doesn’t threaten life, limb or eyesight.
- Needs attention before it becomes a serious risk to health.
*If unsure if you need to see a doctor, there’s a Tricare nurse advise hotline available 24/7 at 1-800-TRICARE. The nurse can further assist you in setting a next-day appointment with a military hospital or clinic, or advise to seek help at an urgent care clinic.
So Thursday, I drove myself to Patient First for the very first time, which opens at 8 am, sought help and treatment for the symptoms I was experiencing. Urgent Care is covered under Tricare Prime, without referral, according to the Tricare website. I was hesitant at first, but since the Tricare nurse did advise me to go to one, I am assuming it’s covered.
After some test, 1 1/2 hours later, I was prescribed medications to take for a week. Nothing life threatening or of serious concern. This being my first time utilizing a civilian medical provider with Tricare Prime, here’s a few things I learned from this experience:
- To find a nearby Tricare network authorized urgent care clinic, check this site: https://tricare.mil/FindDoctor.
- If unsure whether to go to urgent care clinic, call the Tricare Nurse Advise Hotline @ 1-800-Tricare.
- A credit card is needed on file so that Patient First can charge me a co-pay fee, in case my visit was not covered by Tricare. Once it does get approved, the credit card information is removed from their system.
- All the paperwork is done at check-in. After seeing the doctor, I didn’t have to stop again at the check-in desk to checkout because everything was done in the beginning process.
- I needed to show my military dependent ID, which they inputted in their system for my record and to connect with Tricare medical record.
- I was given a paper copy of my prescription and a summary of my visit. The actual prescription is sent electronically.
- I can have my prescription filled at Patient First, with a co-pay, so I opted to have it filled at a Tricare clinic to get it for free. In all honesty though, with my experience that day, I would have been better off paying the co pay at Patient First. You will see why below.
After leaving Patient First, I drove to a Tricare clinic to have my prescriptions filled. After waiting 1 hour, my number finally got called. When I walked to the pharmacy counter, I was told that the system is down and could not received electronic prescription from Patient First, which is how my prescription was sent. The paper copies I had was not valid because it needed to be signed by the doctor who prescribed it.
So, I went home, ate lunch, let my GSD out and went back to Patient First to pick up my paper prescription order. I called ahead so that they were able to print it out for me, had it signed and waiting at the front desk. All I needed was to show an identification to prove it’s me at pick up.
Since the wait time at the first Tricare clinic was long, at the advise of my husband, I went to Dam Neck Base clinic instead to have my prescription filled. This clinic is known to have a shorter pharmacy waiting period since not as many come to this base. It’s roughly a 20 minute drive from Patient First. When I got to the base clinic, I was the only one at the Pharmacy; however, when I showed the pharmacy tech my prescription, I was told that paper prescription orders can not be filled at Dam Neck Base clinic. I was advised to have it filled at Oceana Base clinic, which is a few minutes drive a way.
So, I drove to Oceana Base clinic and waited approximately 45 minutes to have my prescription filled, 2 types of medicine to take over the course of 1 week. By this time, it was already 2 pm. My teens come home around this time, and so I went straight home to wait for them at the bus stop.
I was exasperated with the whole first time experience; but, I do appreciate the option of not having to drive to Portsmouth Naval Hospital Emergency Room to get care. The drive plus the wait there would have been much longer. My aim is always to be available for the kids to drop off and pick up, atleast. I hate having to ask favors from family when it comes to my kids. It’s just my introvert personality seeping thru.
So here’s the lessons I’ve learned from this first time experience with Tricare Prime and Patient First:
- Ask for a paper prescription instead, or risk waiting in the Tricare Pharmacy waiting room for an hour only to be told that it can not be filled. There was no way for me to know Tricare system was having issues with Patient First electronic prescription. I wasted an hour waiting. Bring a book if you want to go the waiting route.
- Dam Neck Base Pharmacy clinic does not fill paper prescription orders but Oceana Naval Base clinic does.
- There’s a co-pay for a prescription fill when using a network authorized civilian provider. It’s $11 for generic medicine or $28 for brand name medicine. (I initially did not know this until after Thursday’s experience. I should have just paid $22 for a less stressful day.)
- Patient First called me back for a follow up status to see if things are better since being seen last. I like this because I don’t get this when I visit the military clinic/hospital.
As for the pain, it has since subsided after 2 days of taking the prescribed medicines. I’m mindful to finish the whole week as medically advised. Now to await my blood test result I talked about on my last post.