Interpreters at Zama General Hospital Paving the Way for Better Healthcare for US Civilian Workers in Japan

CAMP ZAMA, Japan (AP) — A new program at Zama General Hospital is making it easier for American civilians in Japan to obtain off-post health care. Known as the Civilian Healthcare Navigator program, it employs interpreters to assist Defense Department civilians and their families with receiving treatment. This initiative has been well-received and is likely to be replicated at other U.S. military bases across Japan.

The program was established in response to a congressional mandate that limited chronic care at base hospitals to Tricare Prime beneficiaries, which left many DOD civilians seeking care from Japanese providers. However, language barriers and difficulties in navigating the healthcare system led to complaints. As a result, the program at Zama General Hospital now provides interpreters to guide Americans through the process of booking appointments, interacting with medical staff, and paying for treatment.

According to Col. Jeremy Johnson, the medical department commander for U.S. Army Japan, the program has already assisted more than 200 patients, and the demand continues to grow. Its success has prompted consideration for expansion, with plans to hire additional translators to accommodate more patients.

The effort to provide accessible healthcare is seen as crucial for retaining the civilian workforce stationed in Japan. Maj. Gen. David Womack, commander of U.S. Army Japan, emphasized the importance of ensuring that the civilian workforce has ready access to quality healthcare. The newly implemented program is a step in the right direction, but challenges still exist, particularly in accessing certain medical services like annual physicals and mammograms.

Dr. Jun Watari, the chief executive of Zama General Hospital, highlighted the significance of the program in overcoming language barriers and ensuring that patients are comfortable and well-supported throughout their medical appointments. The success of the navigator program has also received positive feedback from patients, including teachers and military personnel who have found the interpreters to be invaluable in their healthcare journey.

Overall, the initiative has proven to be a major boon for American civilians in Japan, providing much-needed support in navigating the local healthcare system and ensuring access to essential medical care. As the program continues to evolve, it is poised to have a lasting positive impact on the well-being of the U.S. civilian population stationed in Japan.