Despite Criticism of Federal Medicine, Innovation Thrives at VA, MHS

By Brenda L. Mooney

Editorial Director

ATLANTA — When it comes to American politics, we certainly live in contentious – if not always interesting – times. One of those hot-button issues is a so-called single-payer health plan as an alternative to Obamacare.

My response to that is similar to that on many fiercely debated issues. I quote the late editor of The Atlanta Constitution, where I spent a decade earlier in my journalism career. Ralph McGill said back in the 1940s, “I cannot be a good crusader because I have been cursed all my life with the ability to see both sides of things.”

Sadly, I share that affliction. So, when my friends and family rail on about having government-controlled healthcare for everyone, I generally can make a reasonably cogent argument on all fronts. The only contention that infuriates me is the one stating that all innovation will be lost if government controls healthcare.

Why? Because I am so aware of the incredible research being conducted by clinicians at the VA and MHS and the benefit far beyond those institutions.

If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the 2017 Compendium of Federal Medicine. Some of the clinical investigations being conducted would have hardly been imaginable at the turn of this century, 17 years ago. Can you believe that gene transfer is being used to improve cardiovascular function in heart failure patients? Or that pathogens causing infections can be identified in hours not days?

Advances in diagnoses and pharmaceutical therapy also are mind-bending. Our issue discusses topics such as a new drug approved to lower cardiovascular risk in diabetes, a marker to help identify a type of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, treatment options for devastating primary progressive multiple sclerosis and the introduction of new second-line medications for renal cell carcinoma.

Furthermore, the important research efforts at the VA and in military medicine aren’t just laboratory science; they are real-world investigations focused on making healthcare more personalized and patient-centered. Caring professionals worry about issues such as whether to tell epilepsy patients about their unexpected death risks. They grapple with ways to improve lung cancer screening so the deadly disease can be detected earlier. They conduct research on how to better measure and manage fatigue in multiple sclerosis patients.

That’s because the best federal healthcare providers face the reality – as well-expressed in the article about how patients’ perception of their chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) doesn’t always match their test results – that the brain is involved in any and every disease process.

As fast as science and technology are moving, the veterans treated by the VA and the servicemembers and their families enrolled in TRICARE aren’t robots. They are human beings who have sacrificed much – sometimes including their health – to serve their country.

At the same time, the systems providing their care are immense — the VA has nearly 9 million enrollees and the MHS has slightly more beneficiaries than that. Those bureaucracies often are cursed with the myriad of problems caused by byzantine regulations.  Yet, somehow, the human spirit continues to shine through, because of truly caring physicians, pharmacists, nurses or other healthcare professionals.

Whatever healthcare system ends up replacing Obamacare, we all would benefit if that combination of remarkable innovation and human-touch could be replicated.

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