Military Health Officials Unveil Revitalized Plan

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2007 - Military Health System officials are working on several ways to improve health care delivery and management and save servicemembers money, the Defense Department's top doctor said here yesterday.

One development that will facilitate health care administration is the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, the electronic health records system recently deployed by the Defense Department. AHLTA provides a clinical data repository with information on all beneficiaries that will be accessible worldwide for military health care providers.

"We have now completed the implementation of AHLTA. It was a three-year project that was finished on time (in December 2006)," Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and director of the Tricare Management Activity told reporters at the State of the Military Health System 2007 Annual Conference.

"We are now into the next stages of refinement of AHLTA that involves making it even faster and creating a local cache so there's always a redundant capability," he said.

Another part of the new MHS strategy is to replace the Veterans Affairs' outdated health record application with AHLTA and share beneficiary information between the two departments.

"VA uses the Vista system, which has been around for a few years, works well; good data shows it makes an impact on quality and care," Winkenwerder said. "However, the Vista system was built on an old platform and ... doesn't have the capability to move the information around the world like AHLTA."

Joining the VA's health record system with DoD's will ensure that "medical information can move seamlessly from the battlefield to any medical facility in the world," Winkenwerder said. He added that the arrangement will "set the standards for interoperability of information sharing."

Another military health project Winkenwerder discussed is the Center for the Intrepid, a $50 million Army national rehabilitation center that opened Jan. 29 at Fort Sam Houston.

"The casualties that we're caring for, have been caring for, and will care for tomorrow are a central part of our focus and part of our concerns right now," he said. "And the (Center for the Intrepid) is the most impressive center for rehabilitation I've ever seen for someone who's had a severe injury."

Winkenwerder said the Military Health System is aggressively searching for ways to reduce health care costs to servicemembers and that efforts have been successful in a number of areas.

"In the area of pharmacy, we have very effectively implemented the Tricare Formulary, ... where we have placed certain drugs within a class into a preferred coverage status," he said. "The non-preferred status is where the individual would have to pay $22 for a co-payment, vs. $15."

Though the differential does not initially seem significant, preferred status has an influence on consumers that affects the pharmaceutical industry, Winkenwerder said.

"It is enough of a differential that it does have some impact on people's buying decisions, and therefore it attracts the notice of the pharmaceutical companies who are, in turn, more willing to negotiate to lower their price," he said.

"So the net effect of having this tiered pharmaceutical benefit has been that we've been able to go through roughly half of the drug classes and make decisions to move things into one of these classes," he said. "It's been a very good process ... that has saved around $500 million in the last two years."

Beneficiaries are encouraged to use the mail-order prescription service as another way to reduce costs, Winkenwerder said.

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