The Air Force Visiting Surgeon Program: Development, Outcomes, and Future Application

Justin P. Fox, Kerry P. Latham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction: Active duty service members and their families have limited access to subspecialty surgical care when assigned OCONUS. To address this issue, the Air Force Visiting Surgeon Program (VSP) was created to push subspecialty care to these locations. Visiting Surgeon Program was accomplished using temporary duty (TDY) orders. We conducted this 12-year review, 2009-2021, of the program to assess objective measures of impact, identify key lessons learned, and consider the program’s future. Materials and Methods: In 2009, the senior author, Col Latham, performed a cost analysis of plastic surgery care provided at OCONUS installations and found that TRICARE Overseas often paid rates substantially higher than a TDY assignment for a single procedure. To improve beneficiaries’ access to care while providing a cost savings to the health care system, 2-week plastic surgery missions were proposed to interested OCONUS military treatment facilities (MTFs). Ultimately, four sites selected to host the program in Alaska, Italy, England, and Japan. These sites were selected based on patient volumes, operating room capacity, and local command and surgeon support. By 2015, the Air Force formalized the program via Air Force Instruction 44-102 which outlined roles and responsibilities of MTF Commanders; established points of contact; and instituted key safety measures. Results: To date, 58 missions have been completed by 21 surgeons through the VSP at Aviano Air Base (Italy; 24.1%), Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (Alaska; 31.0%), Royal Air Force Lakenheath (England; 27.6%), and Yokota Air Base (Japan; 17.2%). While primarily an Air Force program, 17% (10/58) of missions were supported Army or Navy surgeons. Overall, 2,000 patient consultations and 865 surgical cases were performed avoiding $6.7 million in cost. In addition to direct beneficiary care, the VSP also contributed to the participating surgeon and host surgical teams mission readiness. Conclusions: The VSP provides a template to make select subspecialty surgical care available in a cost-effective manner across the military health system, while also providing a model for the forward deployment of military plastic surgeons and triservice collaboration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E1445-E1448
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'The Air Force Visiting Surgeon Program: Development, Outcomes, and Future Application'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this