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Military Health System Transformation Will Improve Care & Innovation

Image of Infographic about Health Innovation Month. Click to open a larger version of the image. In July, the Military Health System is celebrating Health Innovation Month by highlighting some of the advances made in our fight against COVID-19 and their impact on the Defense Health Agency as a High Reliability Organization (Photo by: Kim Farcot, Military Health System).

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The restructuring of the Military Health System (MHS) will make it easier to spread medical innovation across the force and improve care for warfighters, families and retirees.

As the Defense Health Agency (DHA) assumes operational oversight of military medical treatment facilities (MTFs) around the world, a key priority for the modernized health system will be to standardize care and implement the best patient-friendly service techniques for the military community around the world.

"DHA is identifying best practices in patient experience and health care practices, establishing standard processes for DHA guidance, and holding MTF and Market directors accountable for implementation," said Regina Julian, chief of DHA's Healthcare Optimization Division.

The changes to the MHS that Congress approved several years ago will place all military hospitals and clinics under the purview of the DHA.

That will mark a big change from the longtime structure of allowing the individual services to oversee their own medical facilities. Historically, each MTF has created its own standard processes and implementation priorities.

Now, the DHA will be sharing the most effective customer care programs and clinical treatments throughout the entire system.

"DHA takes a deliberate approach to innovation by optimizing through standardization, identifying, and validating additional innovations by comparing real and opportunity costs versus potential benefits to DHA strategy," Julian said. "If validated, DHA will establish new standard processes based on the innovation to improve overall system performance while not introducing unwarranted variance."

Breakthrough medical technologies can only impact people if those technologies and innovations are effectively spread and implemented for a large patient population.

"Health innovation raises the ceiling for just a few," Julian said, but "identifying and validating best practices and incorporating them into standard processes raises the floor for everyone."

Army Col. (Dr.) Sean Hipp, medical director for Virtual Medical Content, noted that DHA is "constantly looking to develop innovative programs to meet the needs of our beneficiaries but also to bring on best practices from the civilian world."

"Cybersecurity, scale of support and cross-continental care mean the DHA must go the extra mile to make sure the program is worthy to expand to all MHS prior to implementation," Hipp said.

To do that, "MHS is constantly balancing research, innovation, and risks to deliver the highest quality, safe and reliable care to beneficiaries."

Trust and patient engagement in the health care system are critical to improving health care outcomes - one of DHA's top priorities.

"To integrate the entire health care system, DHA is implementing an Integrated Referral Management and Appointing Center (IRMAC) model," Julian said. This model will be located at each Market and "then will align each MTF and Market into geographic areas."

"The goal is to use patient-friendly standardized processes while capturing care to the direct care system to support readiness, improve outcomes, and reduce purchasing costs," she said.

Hipp said the IRMAC model "will create standardized booking practices and give the MHS the ability to leverage all available capacity using telemedicine."

The IRMAC model is only one outgrowth of innovations during the COVID-19 pandemic that made increased use of virtual health capabilities within the MHS. Ways in which telemedicine and virtual health were expanded during the pandemic and are being used today will be discussed in a future article this month.

For more on Health Innovation during July, please visit: www.health.mil/HealthInnovation.

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