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System Must Sustain Benefits, Navy Surgeon General Says

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2006 – The military health system provides the best health care in the world, and that quality must be sustained, even as the demand and requirements for health care change in the future, the Navy's surgeon general said here today.

Sustaining the level of health benefits for the military is important, but even more important is sustaining the system that provides those benefits, Navy Vice Adm. Donald C. Arthur said at the State of the Military Health System 2006 Annual Conference.

"We need to keep the system robust so that system can train the people we need to train and use the equipment that we have to deploy in support of operating forces," Arthur said.

Supporting the warfighter is the most important mission of the military health system, Arthur said. The military health system has been fulfilling that role in a way that exceeds expectations and is beyond historic record, he said.

With that excellence, however, comes a problem, because people think the system is good enough and doesn't need improvement, Arthur explained. Really, the system will need improvement because the health care needs of the future will be much different from those of today, he said.

"We need to sustain the system not just for the care and quality that we have today, but the care that we're going to need 10 years from now," he said.

Another responsibility the military health system has is to provide continuity of care for its patients, Arthur said. Military patients can't always see the same doctors because of deployments and changes in duty assignments, he said, but the new electronic health record system will help provide continuity no matter where a patient is seen.

AHLTA, as the electronic health record system is known, will give doctors a legible record containing all the information needed on a given patient, Arthur said. It will be accessible to all military doctors, so patient information will be available whenever and wherever it's needed, he said.

AHLTA will include information about prescriptions, laboratory work, tests and exams so doctors will know if patients are up to date, Arthur said. The system also will allow information to be compiled for an entire clinic, hospital or region, he said. This will allow military health officials to evaluate their performance and the trends of their patient population, he explained.

Another challenge facing the military health system is the transition of patients to the Veterans Affairs Department's health system, Arthur said. The war on terrorism has produced a large number of young veterans who require extensive care after their discharge from active duty, and the VA needs to be prepared to provide that level of care for them, he said.

"This is a different patient population than the VA has ever seen," he said.

The military health system needs to ensure that the families of these grievously wounded servicemembers are cared for as well, Arthur said. These families need support, and deserve it, he said.

"Their families allowed them to serve; they facilitated their service," he said. "They expect things of us."

Being the sole provider of health care for the military produces a lot of expectations from all servicemembers and their families, Arthur said. Military health care workers are expected to be professional, competent and caring, he said, and ready to answer any call.

"Moms and dads in America need to know that the military health system is there for their sons and daughters if they decide to join the military," he said. "If they are ill or injured, they will be treated by the finest medical system in the world."

Contact Author

Vice Adm. Donald C. Arthur, USN

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