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A Year of Transformation and Growth for the Defense Health Agency

Image of A Year of Transformation and Growth for the Defense Health Agency. In 2023, the Defense Health Agency, which celebrated its 10th anniversary on Oct. 1, released a new five-year strategic plan that focuses the agency’s efforts on leveraging health technology to improve patient experiences and outcomes. In early 2024, the DHA will unveil its first major step toward implementing a system-wide “digital front door” for patients, starting with a proof of concept at five sites. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Defense Health Agency welcomed new leadership—bringing a forward-looking strategic plan—and saw key accomplishments, organizational advancements, and a celebration of the agency’s historic 10-year anniversary in 2023.

Leadership Changes

In January, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland became the fourth director of the DHA and the first African-American to serve in that role. With a career spanning three decades of service in the U.S. Army and in the Military Health System, Crosland succeeded U.S. Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place, who served as director since October 2019.

“I'm thankful for this opportunity and grateful to this team, and excited about partnering with our surgeons general, our industry partners, and our patients during a dynamic period in health care,” said Crosland. She highlighted a new vision of the DHA to “care for the joint force and those we are privileged to serve anytime, anywhere—always.”

U.S. Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Tanya Y. Johnson was named DHA’s senior enlisted leader in March—the first woman to serve in the position. She said, “I hope that I make a difference while we're improving health and building readiness across the world and changing the Military Health System to where they can be—anytime, anywhere—always,” echoing Crosland’s vision for the DHA. “I am so honored to be able to do this and so humbled to be able to evolve health care for America’s sons and daughters.”

Additional leadership changes came in May. Donald Johnson became the new DHA Assistant Director for Support/Component Acquisition Executive, where he is responsible for overseeing DHA’s research, acquisitions, information technology, and medical logistics activities, involving more than $2 billion a year in contracting actions.

“In the next few years, we’re going to see a major transformation in the health care delivery model across the Military Health System that will not only greatly improve efficiencies, but also, will bring new tools and capabilities to include new mobile capabilities to our beneficiaries consistent with rapid pace of change we are witnessing across the broader commercial sector,” Johnson said.

Future of DHA and a New Strategic Plan

In February, Crosland shared her vision for the future of the DHA at the annual meeting of AMSUS, the society for federal health professionals, held in National Harbor, Maryland.

“The first priority of the MHS is to keep the force healthy and ready to get out the door,” said Crosland. “The second priority is to keep the medical force trained and ready to get out the door with them. The third priority is for the agency to run platforms to receive casualties, and the fourth priority is the benefit.”

Crosland addressed the ongoing digital transformation at the DHA.

“We need to think more broadly and more boldly about what is possible,” she said. “Not in a 10-year, over-the-horizon way. But today—what can we achieve in 2023 ... no other health enterprise in the world has as much at stake as the MHS in a digital transformation to prepare for our future challenges.”

In August, the DHA unveiled a new strategic plan. The plan covers fiscal years 2023 to 2028 and guides how the agency will provide a strong, integrated health care delivery system in support of the military departments, combatant commands, and beneficiaries.

The strategy outlined three priorities for future of the organization:

  • Enabling combat support to the joint force in competition, crisis, or conflict
  • Building a modernized, integrated, and resilient health care delivery system
  • Empowering dedicated and inspired teams of professionals driving military health’s next evolution

"The MHS is an essential element of national security. It has risen to the occasion, time and again, to respond to threats; both overseas and at home," said Crosland. "This plan ensures the DHA continues to deliver on our obligations to our service members, our families, and our nation."

DHA Advancement

In October, the DHA launched the first phase of its advancement plan, standing up nine new Defense Health Networks to strengthen the management of health care delivery, combat support and support to the military health enterprise worldwide. As part of reorganizing 20 military medical markets into these nine networks, all military hospitals and clinics will align to one of the new networks. The DHA currently operates nine medical centers, 36 hospitals, 525 clinics, and 138 dental facilities worldwide.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Thomas W. Harrell, a board-certified cardiologist and flight surgeon, was named the first director of the largest network, the Defense Health Network Central. “I am incredibly honored to lead DHN Central,” said Harrell, who oversees 39 military hospitals and clinics around the world. “This is an amazing opportunity to unify efforts, processes, and resources to ensure all entrusted to our care have timely access to personal, safe, effective care as we remain ready to project health services support anywhere in the world.”

Learn more about each network, their leaders, and hospital and clinic alignment.

DHA's10th Anniversary

While much of 2023 was spent looking to the future, the DHA’s 10-year anniversary celebration offered an opportunity to reflect on the agency’s accomplishments.

“While we are young, we are mighty. We are important, and we make a difference,” said Crosland.

“It is an organization built on a legacy of greatness,” she continued. “The agency started with a fairly defined mission set as a combat support agency and shared services, and in quick order expanded. We absolutely require the best and brightest you all represent.”

In recognition of its first decade as a combat support agency, the DHA published an interactive timeline commemorating its foundations.

“Thank you for what you do,” said Johnson addressing attendees to a ceremony commemorating the anniversary. “I am so humbled to be able to be a part of your team and witness how we have evolved over the last several years. I cannot wait to see what you do next.”

Moving Forward

Harnessing technology and expanding digital health is the top priority for the DHA. The past year’s efforts culminated Dec. 6–7 in a digital health summit attended by MHS leaders and industry partners.

“We’ve taken some steps already to better use virtual health capabilities and are poised to do more,” said Crosland to the summit participants.

She said the DHA launched the Behavioral-Health Resources and Virtual Experience, or BRAVE, program to expand in-house offering of virtual mental health service to service members and their families. It started in 2022 with 16 military hospitals and clinics, and now is available at 43, with the expectation to add an additional 14 in the future.

Sometime in early 2024, the DHA will unveil its first major step toward implementing a system-wide “digital front door” for patients, starting with a proof of concept at five sites.

But digital transformation isn’t just about technology. “The changes we seek are to make health care better,” said Crosland. “Our principal focus is on how to re-design health care in the face of scarcity and distance. Technology is there to help us, and it’s poised to bring about much greater help. We are the change agents, not the technology.”

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Last Updated: December 29, 2023
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