Access to Care Standards
To ensure that beneficiaries who use the Department of Defense (DoD)
Military Health System receive medically necessary care when they need it,
DoD leadership developed access standards for TRICARE Prime enrollees.
What's important is ensuring that access to care is easy, fast and logical.
TRICARE's standards for access are easy:
- One day or less for urgent care
- One week for routine care
- One month for specialty or wellness care
- 30 minutes or less in the provider's waiting room
- 30 minutes or less travel time to the primary care provider's office.
Emergency services are available and accessible within the TRICARE Prime
service area 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In an emergency, TRICARE beneficiaries should call 911 or go to the nearest
Access standards give TRICARE leaders a tool to measure the actual waiting
and drive times beneficiaries experience and to fix problems when they
occur. By measuring access to care, DoD leaders can improve customer
service. Their goal is to provide beneficiaries the world's best access to
health care. To ensure they receive evaluation of illness in a timely
manner, TRICARE Prime enrollees have access to primary care manager services
24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Besides making access to care easy to track and improve, DoD leaders also
realize those long waits at the provider's office squander away valuable
time. That's why the standards for access also measure how fast
beneficiaries receive care for non-emergency situations at the provider's
office. TRICARE's goal of treatment within 30 minutes of patient's arrival
at the provider's office is very ambitious compared with other health plans.
With the aid of TRICARE's health care finders, even referrals from primary
care managers are handled rapidly. If a beneficiary needs to see a
specialist, the care is arranged swiftly through TRICARE's vast provider
network. In some regions, the services of a health care finder are available
to beneficiaries 24 hours a day, seven days a week. TRICARE's access
standard for travel time to the specialty care provider's office is 60
Even if a health plan is easy, fast and logical to navigate, though,
problems can occur. How leadership deals with problems is another form of
health care access. For example, TRICARE provides assistance with
enrollment, claims and health plan questions through the various TRICARE
service centers in the regions.
Following is a list of the categories of care with the corresponding TRICARE
access standard. When reading this list, remember that a health care
provider using professional standards and clinical judgment may specify more
appropriate appointment guidelines, based on the needs of the beneficiary.
A sudden or unexpected condition or the acute worsening of a
chronic condition that is threatening to life, limb or sight and that
requires immediate medical treatment to relieve suffering from painful
Under a recent TRICARE policy change, emphasis is placed on the symptoms
that prompted the emergency room visit rather than the final diagnosis. This
is called the Prudent Layperson Standard, which means that someone with
average knowledge of health and medicine could reasonably expect that the
absence of medical attention would result in placing a person's health in
serious jeopardy, serious impairment to bodily functions or serious
dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.
Medical attention for a condition that, while not life or limb
threatening, could become more serious if not treated. Examples of urgent
care include eye or ear infections and suspected bladder infections. When
traveling away from home, this type of care, unlike emergency care, requires
the authorization of a primary care manager.
If a beneficiary is enrolled in TRICARE Prime, urgent care must be obtained
at the primary care manager's office. If a beneficiary is not sure where to
go for treatment, he or she may contact a health care finder. The services
of health care finders are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Urgent care is provided in one day or less.
Medical care for symptoms-such as colds and flu or
low-back pain, for which intervention is required, but is not urgent. The
maximum waiting time for routine care is one week.
Medical care to promote health maintenance and prevention,
for example Pap tests. The maximum waiting time for well care is four weeks.
Provided by a specialist in TRICARE's provider network
after referral by a primary care manager. The maximum waiting time for
specialty care is four weeks.
After Hours Care
Patients must be treated by the local emergency room. A
full examination determines further care by emergency personnel or after
hours care personnel.