Thursday, October 18, 2007

Medical Conference Speeds Up the Integration Process

Military medical leaders from the National Capital Region met Oct. 9 and Oct. 10 during phase two of the National Capital Area’s Healthcare Synchronization Conference with the intent of furthering the integration of regional medical resources.

‘‘[Defense Secretary Robert Gates] has said time and time again that — other than the survival of our nation, which is dependent [upon] winning this Global War on Terrorism — there is nothing more important to the Defense Department than the care of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines,” Assistant Defense Secretary for Health Affairs Dr. S. Ward Casscells said.

Casscells said people should not be opposed to the integrating military medical resources.

‘‘[Integration] is not about cost-cutting. It’s not about centralization. It’s not about the Defense Department sticking its nose into the services business,” Casscells said. ‘‘It’s about going from good to great. Good to great in patient care. Good to great in quality of care, good to great in our teaching and our research.”

‘‘Combining medical capabilities in the National Capital Region will allow us to provide all of the services that our casualties need,” said Rear Adm. John Mateczun, who is awaiting Congressional confirmation to lead Joint Task Force National Capital Area-Medical. ‘‘Organizing [the military branches together] will mean we don’t have redundant capabilities. Also, integration provides distinct advantages, especially in specialized areas of care.”

One of the major hurdles for the new task force is overseeing the completion of the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. The new medical facility will be a joint command and will require major construction, renovation and re-organization.

‘‘There are cultural differences in the way [the military branches] handle system processes and the ancillary things that go with moving patients,” said National Naval Medical Center Commander Rear Adm. Richard Jeffries. ‘‘Getting [patients] to the proper rehab or to the Veterans Affairs centers — and other things like that — have not come together in one standardized process yet.”

Select leaders from the Army, Navy and Air Force worked in small work groups during the conference to help diagnose and overcome challenges.

‘‘[This conference] is something we have needed to do, it’s in the right timeframe and in the right direction with the new [joint task force],” Jeffries said. ‘‘[The conference] has gone a long way to [standardizing] this new national military medical command.”

The co-creator of the Drexler⁄Sibbet Team Performance Model, a toolset for managers to create and sustain team performance, served as guest speaker for the conference and said cohesiveness is paramount in developing a strong foundation and framework for building successful teams.

Allen Drexler, who created the model along with Russ Forrester and David Sibbet, supervised as military medical leaders applied the model to the National Capital Region integration.

‘‘It is hard getting [different] cultures to work effectively as one and still maintain their identity,” Drexler said. ‘‘[The joint task force] is inventing something that has never been done before and it takes time.”

‘‘We are getting more people on the same page and we are finding out where the big challenges are that need to be overcome,” Jeffries said. ‘‘We are starting to find out what type of leadership the joint task force needs to form that will get us to the final product within the timeframe set by Congress.”

Conference organizer Air Force Col. John Murray said the meeting was an historical opportunity for National Capital Region military leaders to work collaboratively for a world class health care system.

‘‘Interoperability is key to our national security. Unless we are joint, we’re not really going to be interoperable,” Mateczun said. ‘‘Each [military branch] is able to bring its own unique capabilities to the fight. But, through the combination of these capabilities, we’ll be able to achieve the end state of the mission that we need. We will be more than the sum of our parts.”