SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Although patients probably will not notice the change, the merging of the Navy medical and dental commands’ financial systems is to come to completion Friday as phase one of a Navywide plan to completely blend the two health-care functions.

The complete disestablishment of the dental commands as separate entities is predicted to be complete in early 2005, according to a Navy news report Tuesday. The surgeon general of the Navy first announced the concept last spring.

The Navy Personnel Command’s independent review of dental command structures cites an anticipated “cost avoidance of $4.4 million” over the next five years, the report stated. Officials said the goal is an “improved management process while maintaining the same high standard of care.”

For instance, the U.S. Naval Hospital at Yokosuka Naval Base operates medical with dental operations on mainland Japan at Yokosuka, Sasebo Naval Base, Atsugi Naval Air Facility and Yokohama Annex.

Bill Doughty, a USNH Yokosuka spokesman, said much of the cost avoidance comes from deleting duplicated efforts.

“The Navy identified more than 90 duplicated functions at dental and medical commands. Do we really need two separate awards boards, for example? Integration is expected to increase efficiency and streamline services,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

More than 95 percent of the Navy’s treatment facilities — dental and medical — are in the “same building or within a short walking distance,” the report stated.

Doughty said physical changes at the Japan facilities are limited, but still evolving.

“Frankly, most of our customers may not notice a change,” he said. “We do expect, however, to increase efficiency while still providing the same high-quality service to all of our patients.”

Capt. Carol Turner, chief of the Navy Dental Corps, stated that speedy completion of the plan is beneficial.

“The quicker we can consolidate, the faster we can streamline our processes, eliminate duplicate functions and optimize manpower,” Turner said in the report. “The early integration also gives our Navy dental leaders a chance to focus on expanded career opportunities through integration into the total Navy health delivery system.”

According to Turner, the benefits of integrating the two areas of Navy health delivery are numerous, for the patient as well as for the provider.

Doughty’s assessment is much the same.

“Integration is expected to improve business practices and not affect the already high quality of health care services we provide,” he said. “Staff members may have fewer meetings to attend and more of an opportunity to focus on patient care, so one thing we may see fairly quickly is improved access to care.”

He said leadership realignment is being studied. “We’re still discussing details, but leaders from both U.S. Naval Dental Center Far East and U.S. Naval Hospital, Yokosuka are already working together.”

In addition, he said, the number of personnel assigned to the command should not change significantly.

The Navy’s medical and dental treatment facility integration is part of a Navywide initiative by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark designed to “reduce overhead costs and improve productivity and mission effectiveness by identifying new methods to recapitalize and transform the force,” added the report.

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