Once a year, the healthcare leadership of all branches of our military services come together to learn, network, and interact with its vendors and suppliers. The conference provides an opportunity to discuss issues and problems, share potential solutions and best practices, affirm the mission, and gain clarity and plan for the Military Health System’s (MHS) vision and direction for the future. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard were all represented.
We found the many service members who stopped by our booth to be very interested in the value of evidence-based medicine. We are pleased to have had the opportunity to hear first hand from the military about their experiences, challenges, and commitment to provide world-class care to their patients.
We did notice that change was in the air! A number of themes dominated this year’s conference, which will impact the future of the MHS.
- Health versus healthcare. We noted an increased focus on improving health outcomes for military personnel and their families in ways that support the need for “readiness” while recognizing our obligation to those who serve, often in harm’s way!
- Leaner. As we move from wars on two fronts to peace, a leaner military will also include a reduction in military health personnel on active duty. This will require remaining providers to work smarter, more efficiently, and without unnecessary redundancy.
- Integration and merging of healthcare delivery across the different branches of the military. The new Walter Reed medical complex was described as an example of this “integration” philosophy.
- Innovation and patient-focused care. We were pleased to see a willingness to deliver healthcare in new ways and settings using new technologies and people, all toward the benefit of our military personnel and their families, including our wounded warriors. For example, physical therapists may treat musculoskeletal injuries rather than a family practitioner.
- Achieving significant cost reductions and enhancing cost-effectiveness/return on investment. The military budget will be reduced by one quarter trillion dollars over the next 5 years. So the message—world class healthcare BUT not at any cost!
- Incorporation of evidence. We found a commitment to use scientific research and evidence-based medicine throughout the MHS as the basis for improving the safety and effectiveness of care and the quality of healthcare decision making. In addition, major advances in trauma management, including survival and return to productive lives, were discussed. Did you know that nearly 90% of those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have survived their injuries, compared with 70% in WWII and nearly 76% in Korea and Vietnam?
The overriding take-home message is this: Major changes will occur and must occur! BUT, in spite of the constraints the MHS must deal with, the commitment to provide healthcare that results in meaningful and necessary advances in health must be met. The nation’s armed forces must be “ready,” and this clearly includes healthy armed forces and their families. Those who support the MHS must stand ready to deliver on the services that will help to achieve these goals.