New Governance Will Improve Military Health Care System, Official Says
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2007 The new governance plan for the military health care system, which is in its very early stages, will improve the care given to troops and their families in today’s joint environment, the Defense Department’s top health official said today.
The idea behind the new governance plan is to have the separate military services work together even more closely than they do now in the area of health care. This will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the system, Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said in an interview at the Pentagon.
“Our system does work well now; we have great outcomes in battlefield medicine and in the care of our wounded – the best in history,” Winkenwerder said. “But we have a vision, we have a clear set of ideas that things can work even better.”
The new governance plan was approved by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England on Nov. 27, 2006. It calls for joint oversight and leadership of several key functional areas across the health system, such as education and training, medical research, and health care delivery.
Under the new plan, large local markets that serve more than one branch of the military will have a unified authority, Winkenwerder explained. This will allow for better decision making, increased cost effectiveness and shared resources, he said.
The Defense Department will consolidate medical education and training at a new center in San Antonio, and it will also consolidate medical research. Any research that is unique to a specific service will be preserved, Winkenwerder added.
“One of the things that we wanted to do was to not break anything that works well today; we don’t think we’re going to do that at all,” he said.
DoD health care has already consolidated in one area – information technology. Winkenwerder praised the new electronic medical records system, AHLTA, the “Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application,” which is used by all services at all military treatment facilities.
“We have the chance to do that kind of thing in other areas, and that’s what the new governance plan is about,” he said.
The new governance plan will not create a new joint command with one surgeon general, Winkenwerder explained. The services will maintain their separate surgeons general, he said, but major changes in governance will happen across the board.
The new governance system will require a transition process, Winkenwerder said. Details of the plan still need to be worked out, and a transition team will be appointed to map the execution of the plan, which is expected to be complete by 2009.
Key goals of the new plan are to save taxpayer dollars and improve the health care given to troops and their families, Winkenwerder said. He praised the services for their cooperation and compromise in developing the plan, and expressed optimism about the success of the plan.
“Ultimately, all of this needs to be about producing a better product, producing a better result, all in the interest of our servicemembers and their families,” he said. “They deserve the best that we can provide them, and that’s the goal of all this.”