News: Defense Health Agency leans forward to change
Story by Valecia Dunbar
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - "We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance." - Harrison Ford
In the military, pomp and ceremony usually denotes an end to a new beginning.
On Oct. 1, 2013, 10:00 a.m., at the Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, there will be the casing of the colors of the Tricare Management Activity and the raising of a flag to celebrate the creation of a new activity called the Defense Health Agency (DHA).
This is a special event. It shall have what other ceremonies of this kind have had in the past: people watching seriously from the sidelines, service members standing at attention, and will have a unique mission and intent for the future to make medical care better for our nation's service members.
The day of the ceremony is not the end of a journey, but marks a beginning from the first step in 2013 to being fully operational in the fall of 2015.
Led by Air Force Maj. Gen. Douglas J. Robb this Oct. 1, 2013, the Defense Health Agency will stand up with the mission to change how military medicine does business. This means streamlining processes, reducing complex operations, and achieving actual cost reductions with an end state of improving care to beneficiaries. This means Army beneficiaries.
This change does not alter MEDCOM's mission to provide responsive and reliable heath services. It does not alter the mission to improve readiness and advance the wellness of soldiers and their families.
Everything is in place and remains the same.
However, the implementation of DHA is an attempt to reduce operating costs by consolidating services. It is to bring under one command those services such as information technology, and research and development (two of 10 functions) that quite logically should be the same no matter if you are in the Army, Navy or Air Force.
Money can be saved in sharing services such as health care operations, business support, research and development, IT, and education and training.
A baby is delivered the same for an Air Force dependent as it is delivered for an Army dependent. The doctor may wear a different uniform that assists the expectant mother, but why should the health record that records her medications and symptoms be different from the health record of a mother delivering in an Army hospital? Why should the research and development of new medications and surgical procedures be under different commands when such discoveries benefit all no matter what uniform the service member wears?
In addition, this means that drugs that are prescribed and kept track by computer can be easily standardized across the services. Thinking in these terms, understanding how these types of processes overlap, is an opportunity to increase efficiencies and save money. Having the armed services work separately to achieve the same objective is redundant and wastes taxpayer dollars.
The establishment of the DHA is slated as " … the biggest structural organizational change" in military health system history, acting Tricare Deputy Director Allen Middleton sees these changes as "relevant" and will eventually make the Defense Medical System "stronger."
There are ten shared services that will be placed under the DHA umbrella. The movement will be transitional. The first five: Facility Planning, Medical Logistics, Health Information Technology, the Tricare Health Plan, and Pharmacy Programs move over Oct. 1, 2013. The remaining shared services of Public Health, Acquisition, Budget and Resource Management, Medical Education and Training, and Medical Research and Development will be part of DHA by 2015.
What is the goal of so many changes? The goal is to reduce costs, to implement system improvements, to have data available across the medical services, to standardize processes in performing analytic functions. It is not taking away any unique qualities or requirements for each of the armed services, but is aimed directly in improving care to the patient. The goal is to be efficient. The goal is to be the soldier first.
What does this mean for civilians and soldiers in the new organization? Most will continue in their present jobs, and will experience no change in their current team or supervisor.
Large scale relocations are not expected, and entitlements such as pay, leave, and benefits remain the same. Employees will not be expected to compete for positions. Only those in key leadership positions within the DHA will have this issue. As for job security, the secretary of defense has made it clear we are in for some tough financial decisions in FY14 that will impact the work force. This is a concern of many government organizations and should not be a surprise.
Additional information can be obtained by going to the website: https://mhs.health.mil. At this website, questions will be accepted by email, frequently asked questions (FAQs) are available for review, and the new DHA organizational structure is online to review.