A backlog of about 600 pathology cases at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital has forced officials to speed up the processing of cases to prevent future delays, a spokeswoman said.
The hospital has received assistance from other medical facilities across the Washington, D.C., area and, as of June 11, the backlog was cleared. The hospital saw an increase in the number of patients seeking care, after delaying care due to the pandemic, which contributed to the backlog, said Sandy Dean, spokeswoman for the Defense Health Agency’s National Capital Region Market. The hospital serves military beneficiaries from all branches of service.
Information is not available about whether there have been backlogs in other areas of the military health system.
“[Fort Belvoir Community Hospital] clinical teams have been in close contact with patients to ensure they are aware of the status of their pathology results. There is no indication that any patients were harmed due to the delay in readings,” Dean said.
The delays came in the analyses of biopsies and resections. Resections are surgeries to remove tissue, or part or all of an organ. After an anonymous source contacted Military Times with concerns about delays in patients’ diagnoses, including some that were potentially cancerous, Military Times asked Defense Health Agency about the issue May 21.
Dean said the backlog was “unexpected,” and the Fort Belvoir hospital received additional pathology support from National Capital Region Market military medical facilities to process the cases.
“FBCH is working with the [National Capital Region] to more fully integrate pathology workflow between FBCH and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to ensure timely processing of cases and to prevent any future delays,” Dean said.
While they worked to clear the backlog, the hospital did receive a few complaints from patients, but they were quickly resolved, she said.
Fort Belvoir Community Hospital is part of the National Capital Region Market, which was set up in January 2020 as one of the first of 21 markets where DoD has large concentrations of facilities and patients. Each market shares patients, staff, budgets and other functions across facilities. It’s part of the transformation of the Military Health System as the services’ military treatment facilities are being moved under the administrative responsibility of the Defense Health Agency.
Advocates have been concerned — almost since the beginning of the pandemic, when they realized people were delaying preventive care — “about a possible tsunami of care that would arise once people felt comfortable returning to their medical provider,” said Karen Ruedisueli, health care director for the Military Officers Association of America.
“In terms of this situation, it sounds like it took some time, but the market level approach eventually provided enough capacity to run all these pathology reports,” Ruedisueli said.
“We’ll be keeping an eye on things and hope that this was a good learning experience and that [the Defense Health Agency] is committed to using all resources available, including civilian providers, if necessary, to ensure timely access to care.
“I think this is going to be a challenge in the civilian side, too,” she said. “I suppose a lot of the capacity we might normally count on in the civilian sector may also be somewhat overwhelmed for a while.
“We appreciate the challenge, and we hope [the Defense Health Agency] will do everything possible to make sure these sorts of backlogs are identified and addressed as quickly as possible,” she said.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.