Navy Medicine must seek efficiencies, service's top doc says
Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, Wash.
BREMERTON — Navy Medicine is everywhere. Under the sea. On the sea. Above the sea. On the battlefield. At natural disasters. In hospitals. Their boss wherever they are, Vice Adm. Matthew Nathan, was at Naval Hospital Bremerton Thursday.
The Navy surgeon general spoke with sailors during all-hands calls, and made the rounds with hospital commander Capt. Christopher Culp and medical residents.
"I think we're a strong component of the Navy motto "Global Force for Good," he said of the 64,000 doctors, nurses, corpsmen and staff who comprise Navy Medicine. "I'm proud of a Navy that invests in its ability to not only bring tremendous combat abilities when needed but also delivers compassion and assistance."
Like private medicine, Navy Medicine faces escalating costs. Congress and the Department of Defense might ultimately need to address who receives care and at what cost, but so far it's being combated through better practices.
"Our main goal is to find more efficient and effective ways to maintain health, prevent illness and provide health care without reducing the number of people we care for," said Nathan, who's based with other services' surgeons general at Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, Va. "So far, all of our conversations have centered on finding more efficiencies in health care, not reducing the benefits."
A Nathan priority is "jointness" — working with other services, VA hospitals and the private sector to share people and facilities, and eliminate redundancies. Naval Hospital Bremerton and Madigan Army Medical Center could explore partnerships, for example.
Another priority is value — providing the right services at the right places to the right people.
"Separate the nice to have from the essential to have while always maintaining our eye on the quality of that care," Nathan said.
The surgeon general's other priority is readiness, the hallmark of the Navy and Marines, who are in the Navy Medicine system. Whether it's a doctor delivering a baby at Naval Hospital Bremerton, a corpsman bandaging a wounded Marine in Afghanistan, or a nurse caring for foreign earthquake victims, Navy Medicine has to be prepared, said Nathan, who earned his third star and was promoted to surgeon general on Nov. 18.
The Navy does have some advantages over civilian medicine. As a primary care organization, it can concentrate more on preventive health, and most of its medical records are electronic.
"It's no secret our country spends a tremendous amount on health care, but it's not at the top of the list when it comes to a healthy population," Nathan said. "We need to change behaviors to preserve wellness, which is much cheaper than trying to treat disease."
Ten years of continuous war has taught the military a great deal about stress, such as that sailors and families of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis could feel when they return to the Middle East in August. The Navy is much more aware and sensitive to it, and has improved but not eliminated the stigma of sailors seeking help.
"I'm encouraged by the progress we've made, but I won't be satisfied until we achieve that through 100 percent of our fleet," Nathan said.
Nathan will represent Navy Medicine at this weekend's Seafair festivities.
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