New era in military medicine takes hold

Thursday - 4/3/2014, 8:16am EDT

Agency of the Month - April 3, 2014

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By Lauren Larson
Federal News Radio

The Defense Health Agency has only existed since October, but it's already helping to make big strides towards a fully integrated military health care system that will cut costs and streamline operations across the services.

"For the first time, you have an operational level organization that can directly interface with all the services — get their input, organize themselves, really solicit and collaborate with the services — so we can build a better military health system," said Major General Richard Thomas, chief medical officer and director of DHA Healthcare Operations, in an interview on Federal News Radio's Agency of the Month radio show.

Courtesy of DHA. Click for bio.

The Healthcare Operations directorate is the "DNA" of DHA, according to Thomas. He was part of the original task force that gave rise to the agency.

The task force found that the services were more alike than different, and there were several opportunities to collaborate and cooperate more than they were doing, Thomas said. Through shared services that implement the best practices from all the military services, DHA hopes to achieve a quadruple aim: achieve medical readiness, improve the health of its people, enhance the experience of care and lower healthcare costs.

DHA chose five shared services to focus on initially: facility planning, medical logistics, health information technology, the TRICARE Health Plan and pharmacy programs. Along with common business practices these shared services are being implemented in eight markets, which combined make up more than half of the direct care provided by the military health system. Puget Sound, Wa.; Colorado Springs, Co.; Oaho, Hawaii.; San Antonio, Tx.; the National Capital Region and Tidewater, Va. are multi-service markets. San Diego, Ca. and Ft. Bragg, N.C. are single- service providing care for the Navy and Army, respectively.

There are approximately 9.6 million beneficiaries to the military health care system including active duty, family members, retirees and others. Thomas said they provide just over $8 billion in direct care through treatment facilities and twice that much in the TRICARE network.

"We've got to have and institutionalize an enterprise in the military health care system which enables us to have readiness focus, but also understands that we have the requirement to train our folks, so that we have the right currency and competency, so they can do their job anywhere in the world," said Thomas.

He says they've learned a lot after more than 13 years of continuous combat operations and many standards of care have evolved in combat. Trauma care, disease prevention and treatment, critical care, pain management and traumatic brain injury are just a few examples.

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