News: US surgeon general visits JBLM
Story by Sgt. Sarah Enos
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - The newly-appointed U.S. surgeon general met with Public Health Service officers assigned to 1st Special Forces Group, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Nov. 7 and toured the Department of Defense Telehealth and Technology (T2).
Rear Adm. Boris Lushniak, who accepted his position in July, met with the PHS officers embedded with 1st Special Forces Group to discuss ways they address and prevent negative psychological effects on the war fighter after being subjected to extreme environments and experiences.
“I’m very proud of what our special forces are doing,” Lushniak said. “But I’m also very proud of what our PHS officers are doing to achieve that final mission. The focus here is on psychological health and I think it ties in well with the mission we have within DOD.”
Widely known as the “top doc” and for warning labels on cigarette packaging, the surgeon general is the senior ranking uniformed officer of the PHS. The PHS comprises of approximately 6,800 uniformed health officers who serve in locations around the world to promote, protect and advance the health and safety of our Nation.
As the current surgeon general, Lushniak serves as the nation’s top health officer and primary adviser to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, on matters involving the nation's public health and scientific issues.
“Approximately 300 or so of my officers are embedded within the DOD doing clinical mental health work, often serving at different military treatment facilities throughout the country in ones or twos,” Lushniak said. “Although we are not a very well-known service, we are doing incredible things and have been doing this as a uniformed service for the country since 1889.”
While touring T2 facility, Lushniak met with staff to discuss ways clinical psychologists, researchers and programmers deliver customized healthcare to the men and women of the defense community through digital delivery systems. Telehealth and Technology is currently developing the DOD’s strategic telehealth plan.
The center reaches out on a global scale to put mobile health into day-to-day care by developing telehealth applications for mobile platforms. Mobile healthcare allows patients to access to health information and assessment tools anywhere, anytime, on any device and send the results to their provider.
The surgeon general said he was impressed with the advancement of military healthcare.
“The concept of telemedicine and telehealth, doing things from a distance is exciting 21st century stuff,” Lushniak said. “It allows us to utilize our resources most efficiently but at the same time bring health to needed patients”.
Staff at T2 explained how developing future smart phone apps gives patients the ability to deal with psychological symptoms they might be experiencing and how they can achieve positive behavioral change.
From a surgeon general’s prospective, Lushniak said T2’s developments are significant.
“If I’m here to do any good, it is to put a focus in our nation as to how many things a person can control about their own health,” Lushniak said.
Designing technology-based tools have the advantage of continuous support for post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and other behavioral health and physical ailments associated with the combat deployments.
“Not all facilities are capable of diagnosing early enough, seeing some of the issues that come on early enough and the T2 program will allow that capability to expand through the use of new technologies,” Lushniak said.
The first T2 mobile apps were developed and released in 2010. T2 now has more than 600,000 downloads from more than 15 mobile apps. The apps allow soldiers to track their mood, show biofeedback and learn diaphragmatic breathing exercises. They also raise awareness of potential problem areas, gain control over physiological and psychological responses to stress and how to avoid situations that trigger memories of trauma and educate about topics related to post traumatic stress disorder and treatment.
Lushniak expressed interest in showcasing the behavioral change apps outside the DOD population.
“In January of this coming year we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Surgeon General Luther Terry’s first report on smoking, “Lushniak said. “So it’s only been 50 years that the federal government has actually come out and said smoking is bad. In those years, we’ve gone from 46 percent of adults smoking to 18 percent. We have made major end roads, but that’s not enough for us, we have to use the aspects developed here in the T2 program.”
Based on Lushniak’s feedback and encouragement, the staff at T2 plans to continue work on developing more apps related to prevention and behavior change in the near future.