NEWS | Oct. 8, 2015

Defense Health Agency full operational capability: a mile marker, not the finish line

Defense Health Agency Director

The Defense Health Agency celebrated its achievement of full operational capability Oct. 1, two years after the agency was first established.

It’s been an exciting and rewarding time. We have grown as an organization – certainly in size, but also in maturity and the sophistication of our analytic and management functions.

We have worked together to support the Services and our combatant commanders in their missions. We have delivered on our commitment to provide the best health care possible to our 9.5 million service members, retirees and their families. We have made the entire Military Health System enterprise better.

While the agency is just two years old, its genesis goes back further.

In 2011, the deputy secretary of defense convened a task force to look at options for the long-term governance of the MHS. The lessons of 10 years of war combined with the fiscal realities of the present established the value of a more integrated approach in support of operational forces.

From that task force was born the idea of the DHA, an organization built for the services by the services – under the auspices of the Army, Navy and Air Force medical departments. Our overriding mission is to have a medically ready force and ready medical force at all times, fully supporting a better, stronger, more relevant – and beyond that, more viable – MHS.

As the DHA stood up – a process I’ll make the point of saying took great vision and tenacity – we worked to identify the core functions, find where the opportunities for greater integration exist, and institute repeatable processes across the enterprise.

We’ve streamlined our processes in both our clinical and business operations and are working as one team across the entire MHS community – the Services, Joint Staff and outside experts who’ve established enterprise-wide shared services in other industries.

For example, working as one team, DHA’s

Healthcare Operations led the MHS response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. What was learned in the response will help the region, as well as our own efforts, to be better prepared against infectious diseases.

More recently, using more than 800 experts from across the MHS, we put together a request for proposal for a new electronic health record. Industry responded, and we are acquiring more than just a health record. We’ll have a better system of tracking the care of our beneficiaries and securely sharing electronic health information across systems of care.

Our beneficiaries will have increased abilities to monitor their health care and communicate with their health care providers.

What’s the result of our work so far? Improved delivery of services with substantial savings to the Defense Department and the taxpayer.

We’re saving valuable resources, $350 million in fiscal year 2014 alone, and projecting nearly $3.5 billion in savings over the next four years.

We’ve become a platform for innovation across the Services. We’re encouraging military medical research and development, both within the MHS and with external partners in academia and the private sector, in an effort to not only ensure our forces are in a constant state of military readiness, but to also ensure we have the most advanced medical means and knowledge to restore and return them to duty when ill or injured.

There’s much to be proud of from the past two years, but we still have much work to do.

As a combat support agency, we want to become to medicine what the Defense Logistics Agency is to logistics. We are building a health system that celebrates and protects the special expertise that is required for Army, Navy and Air Force medicine, while recognizing there is a great deal of our work that requires common approaches to medical care, and common approaches to how we conduct business.

When we make processes more efficient, we also need to enhance readiness, safety and quality. The DHA works with the services to make that happen. Our agency was built by, and is staffed by, dedicated professionals from the services and from our career civilian staff who are determined to see this succeed.

While we celebrate the major milestone of full operational capability, I want to emphasize this is just a mile marker, not the finish line. No one takes success as a given.

To my DHA colleagues, I encourage you to stay the course, continue to mature the organization and always seek out new opportunities for improvement and advancement. We’ll continue to strive for excellence, collaborating with the services, military medical leaders, clinicians and beneficiaries to ensure our nation has a medically ready force … and a ready medical force now and in the future.