Need medical attention? You might be able to do some grocery shopping while you're there, if the Navy's planned test of putting medical clinics in some commissaries is successful. 

The test, which will take place in the Jacksonville, Florida, area, is in the planning phase. The clinics will be run by Navy corpsmen, said Vice Adm. Forrest Faison III, the Navy surgeon general, during a Dec.1 session at the conference of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, held just outside Washington, D.C. 

"Those corpsmen who save lives on the battlefield need to be doing more than taking vital signs and pushing records in the records room," Faison said. "We're letting them run clinics in our commissaries to give them the clinical experience they need, to build confidence in patient care that they need."

Further information about the test – what types of care would be offered, whether appointments would be required, or the role (or interest level) of the Defense Commissary Agency or other service branches in the pilot, for instance – was not immediately available.

Along with providing experience for military medical personnel, the clinics also would offer convenience, helping keep young service members connected to military health care. Faison noted that service members and their families have more choices now with their health plan, "so our challenge is to get them to choose us, in an environment and with a generation that's driven by convenience."

Major enterprises such as Walmart are getting into the health care business, he said.

"Walmart is putting clinics in many of their stores over the next two years. Ninety percent of the U.S. population, to include our sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines and their families, live within 10 miles of a Walmart."

Walmart Care Clinics are in Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, and their website lists Tricare first among the insurance plans they accept.

"No appointment is required. …. [Walmart has] integrated health care into people's day-to-day lives," Faison said. "It's a big deal to have to call up and navigate the phone tree to make an appointment, drive to the hospital, find a parking spot, which is challenging in some of our facilities, go and sit in the waiting room, see the doctor, go to the pharmacy, wait in the pharmacy.

"It's an all-day evolution. Why would you do that when you can just go to Walmart and pick up dinner on the way home?" 

'Exciting' proposal

Advocates applaud the idea of testing clinics in commissaries. "Our association has been fighting for improved access to care for a long time, so we are thrilled to see the Navy embrace a new concept that seems to be working well in the civilian world," said Karen Ruedisueli, government relations deputy director for the National Military Family Association. 

"What makes this even more exciting is that Navy medicine is considering the needs of military families with this pilot. The whole idea is to make health care more accessible and convenient. We think the clinics in commissaries pilot is a great idea for improving access to care and would love to see the other services follow suit," she said.

Jacksonville Navy medical officials are testing ways to improve patients' experiences overall, and part of that is looking at ways to provide care outside the hospital setting.

The concept is "if they don’t have to come to the hospital, don’t make them come to the hospital," Faison said. "Seventy percent of what goes into a primary care clinic doesn’t need to see a physician. So why are we making them do that?"

The military medical system must fundamentally change how it approaches medical care for millennials in other ways, too, Faison said, noting that technology is an integral part of millennials' lives. There are nearly 16,000 health-related apps in the iTunes store – none of which went through quality control, Faison said.

"All of them are being used by our service members and their families to make important health care decisions," he added. "That's their primary source of information. It's not us. ... We have to play in that environment or we will become irrelevant for their health care. We will lose visibility on the health of the force.

"What happens when a unit commander comes to me as the doctor  and says, 'What's going on with Seaman Smith? And I have to say, I don't know sir, he's getting his care from Walmart."

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at .

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.

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