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Military Medicine an ‘Indispensable Asset to Our Military and the Nation’

Image of Military Medicine an ‘Indispensable Asset to Our Military and the Nation’. Dr. Lester Martínez-López, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, addressed challenges and opportunities to rebuild the Military Health System at the opening plenary for the annual meeting of AMSUS, the Society of Federal Health Professionals. (Photo: Robbie Hammer)

Dr. Lester Martínez-López, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, underscored the importance of teamwork and cooperation to “enable the Department of Defense to provide medically ready and ready medical forces by improving the health of all entrusted to our care” at the 2024 annual meeting of AMSUS, The Society of Federal Health Professionals in February 2024.

“In the challenging world of medicine today, none of us can afford to go it alone,” said Martínez during his opening remarks. “Forging strong relationships supports the open information sharing and collaboration our country—and the entire world—needs to meet the challenges ahead.”

The AMSUS meeting in National Harbor, Maryland, Feb. 12-15, gathered health professionals from across the Military Health System and other federal agencies, such as the Veterans Health Administration, with the mission of advancing military, public, veteran, and global health.

The theme for the 2024 meeting was “Beyond Duty: Empowering, Honoring, and Taking Care of Those Who Serve Our Nation.”

The theme “could not be more fitting to the mission of the MHS,” Martínez said.

“This is a pivotal time for the MHS,” he said. “The Military Health System faces serious challenges at this moment in history, challenges that threaten the sacred trust between the MHS and our beneficiaries unless we can act decisively to rebuild our capacity and fully support our workforce and our patients.”

In addition to Martínez, speakers at the opening plenary included Defense Health Agency Director U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland and Dr. Jonathan Woodson, president of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

“The need for close collaboration has never been greater,” said Crosland. “There has been great change over the past six or seven years—not just organizational change, but change driven by the pandemic, and larger changes in American medicine.”

“The Military Health System, in large part because of many of you in this room, is the world's most respected military health system. It is amazing and unparalleled. But it can be better. It needs to be better. It has to be better,” she said. “Our mission depends on it. Our nation and our military depend on it. People's lives depend on it.”

Crosland addressed the efforts being made to stabilize the MHS.

“Over the past year, Dr. Martínez-López led a comprehensive review of the Military Health System, with input from the service secretaries and chiefs, the Joint Staff, and our colleagues in the military departments.”

She added, “The consensus was clear: Military medicine is an indispensable asset to our military and to the nation,” she said. “And it requires new investments, an end to personnel reductions, and a plan to welcome patients back into the direct care system.”

Woodson addressed the Department of Defense memo issued by Martínez directing the stabilization of MHS. The memo aligned with the MHS Strategy for fiscal years 2024 through 2029.

“Dr. Martínez has unveiled a comprehensive strategy that demands our attention as leaders and key enablers within the MHS,” he said. “This strategy serves as a guiding beacon for the MHS.”

“It outlines three pillars, the medically ready force, ready medical force, and health care delivery,” Woodson continued. “It’s infused with the principles of selfless service and healing core values.”

He outlined the four actionable goals within the MHS, including:

  • Taking care of people
  • Stabilizing the MHS
  • Modernizing the MHS
  • Integrating MHS capabilities

“These goals are not just aspirations but imperatives, and vital to our mission and future success,” Woodson said. “They call for a concentrated effort to enhance our workforce, improve patient care, embrace digital health, prioritize research, and fortify health care capabilities.”

“Can we fix this? The answer is yes,” said Martínez. “It will not happen overnight … it will take time to make the changes we need. But we have started the process, and I am confident that we will show steady progress as we rebuild and restore the system.”

Crosland added, “A year ago, at AMSUS, new in my tenure, I said I was optimistic about our future. And since then, I'm even more optimistic.”

Improving Health and Readiness Anytime, Anywhere—Always

Across AMSUS, DHA leaders further outlined the agency’s continuing efforts to transform the MHS and fulfill the agency’s mission to improve health and readiness for its more than 9.6 million beneficiaries.

Dr. Brian Lein, DHA Assistant Director of Health Care Administration, spoke about the vital need for standardization to stabilize the core of the MHS.

“You’ve heard from General Crosland about where she wants the organization to go, completely redesigning the system of how we deliver health care,” said Lein. “Standardization is the key to getting there quickly. Without standardization, you’re never going to get optimization.”

Naomi Escoffery, DHA’s chief innovation officer and deputy to the deputy assistant director of acquisitions and sustainment and chief accelerator oficer, talked about the improving the patient experience.

“We're focused on a digital first, people-centered system of care,” said Escoffery. “We are utilizing technology that meets the patient's where they are. You'll hear often within the DHA that we're bringing the hospital to the patient. That that's our goal. That's what we're driving for. We want to create a space that’s simplified to amplify the patient experience.”

U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas Cantilina, Chief Health Informatics Officer, DHA, offered his perspective on lessons learned from the MHS GENESIS rollout and how these lessons factor into improving patient care.

MHS GENESIS is the Department of Defense’ single electronic health record that is now operational at all military hospitals and clinics worldwide after a phased deployment that started September 2019.

“We learned early on that implementing MHS GENESIS was a change management project, not an information technology management project. The difficult thing was changing that paradigm of what your workflow was,” said Cantilina. “If we want to adopt a new technology, we have to go back to the workflow.”

“Think about the concept of a workflow and integrating people into it. How do we make care easier for the patient to get what they need?” said Cantilina. “Not what you want to give them—what they need.”

U.S. Navy Cap. Meghan Corso, chief of behavioral health clinical operations for the DHA, outlined DHA efforts to make best use of its behavioral health resources.

“We’ve started to recognize that some folks who need help may not have a diagnosable behavioral health condition, and may benefit from other services,” said Corso. “This approach allows us to look at the whole person to really meet their needs and achieve their goals.”

Corso is referencing the Targeted Care program, which matches individual needs to the appropriate mental health resource, whether a behavioral health consultant, mental health provider, family life counselor or other resources depending in the patient’s initial assessment.

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Last Updated: March 19, 2024
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