The White House recently launched its Cancer Moonshot initiative at Howard University. The Murtha Cancer Center and USU will have an important role in this important national effort to try and speed up cancer research.
When asked whether I believe cancer care is relevant to military health, my one-word answer is “Absolutely.”
I have five reasons for this response. The first four are encompassed in the military health system’s “quadruple aim:”
1. Better health – the Military Health System (MHS) covers more than 9 million Americans including service members, their families and military retirees. It directly or indirectly provides care to 7 million or more. Its job isn’t limited to treating folks when they are sick or injured; the MHS’ first responsibility is to keep warfighters healthy, fit and ready for duty. A healthy military, backed by healthy and strong families, is a force amplifier. Although cancer is more commonly diagnosed in retirees, it’s a challenge for service members and their families, too. Consider these facts: breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in women, and it’s the top cause of cancer-related deaths among women under 40. Since 90% of women service members are under 40; this makes breast cancer a significant threat to their health. Historically, cervical cancer was a major problem, too, but thanks to the work of Dr. Lowy at the National Cancer Institute we now have an effective vaccine for cervical and several other forms of cancer. Tobacco is widely used in the military, so tobacco-related cancers are a major threat too.
2. Better care – the staff of Walter Reed’s Murtha Cancer Center understand the values, challenges and special needs of service members and their families. And like the rest of the staff at the hospital, they put the patient, and the families that back them up, are at the center of everything they do. They not only deserve the best care our nation can offer, they need to know that their families will be cared for while they are gone. In fact, the Murtha Cancer Center outperforms the nation, based on SEER data.
3. Lower costs – Cancer care can be hugely expensive, and every dollar the DoD spends on cancer care is one dollar less the DoD has for other priorities. And unlike the civilian sector, which is aligned to maximize clinical revenue, the military health system has a powerful incentive to give its patients better care at lower cost. The good news is that in almost every case, the best care costs less, because when patients get the care they need, rather than a lot of extra tests and treatments that don’t benefit their health, this saves money and reduces the risk of costly side effects and complications from treatment. A recent analysis Murtha Cancer Center care demonstrated that patients not only did better; their care was much less expensive than cancer treatment at civilian hospitals. That’s a “win” for military patients and their families, and a “win” for American taxpayers.
4. Readiness – delivery of top quality cancer care a high-performing team of doctors, nurses, technicians and others with the technical skill required to perform complicated chest, abdominal, pelvic and extremity surgery, anesthesia, critical care, rehabilitation, expert nursing and compassionate counseling. These are precisely the skills military healthcare providers need to deliver great combat casualty care. Surgeons can’t manage the devastating injuries caused by an IED or artillery through a laparoscope. Top sports teams understand that to win championships, you have to, “practice how you play.” The Murtha Cancer Center’s surgeons, OR staff, nurses and others. As a result, Murtha’s clinical programs not only benefit DoD patients, and save money, they maintain readiness by honing key clinical skills caregivers need to possess when go down range.
· But there’s a fifth reason that military cancer care matters, and it’s as important as the other four. It’s Innovation. It’s the key reason the Murtha Cancer Center exists. Today, thanks to the Tri-Federal Cancer Initiative involving Walter Reed, the National Cancer Institute at NIH and the Uniformed Services University, the Murtha Cancer Center is becoming one of our nation’s most valuable hubs for advanced cancer care and research; not only throughout the military health system, but for the United States at large. The Murtha Cancer Center is perfectly positioned to ask and answer vital research questions that will not only improve the health of service members, their families and military retirees; it will advance the our nation’s odds of defeating cancer, once and for all.
Is cancer care relevant to the U.S. military? You bet. It’s relevant because it produces:
· Better Health – for military service members, their families and retirees
· Better Care – keeping the patient at the center of everything we do
· Lower Costs – good stewardship for America’s taxpayers and the DoD
· Readiness – to assure a medically ready force; we must maintain a ready medical force
· Innovation – the Murtha Cancer Center is making landmark discoveries to advance our understanding of cancer causation, prevention, treatment and recovery.
As the DoD’s only Cancer Center of Excellence, the Murtha Cancer Center has a special responsibility to serve those who come to Walter Reed and other major military hospitals around the nation for the best cancer care our nation has to offer. And as the focal point of the Tri Federal Initiative, it has a unique opportunity to advance science and improve America’s health. The Hébert School of Medicine at USU – “America’s Medical School” – is proud to be a partner in this effort.
Arthur L Kellermann, MD, MPH
Dean, F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
June 22, 2015