Air Force Medicine: A Vision for the Future

travisBy Lt. Gen. Thomas W. Travis, MD, Surgeon General, United States Air Force

The United States Air Force’s core missions are air and space superiority, ISR (intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance), rapid global mobility, global strike, and command and control. These are almost identical (but in different terms) to the missions the USAF had in 1947. But we now do these missions in three domains: Air, Space and Cyberspace.

In the Air Force I grew up in, the “operators” were primarily pilots and navigators. There are many more types of “operators” these days, as air power is projected through the various domains in very new ways. Air Force Medicine is adapting and innovating to better support the airmen who safeguard this country 24/7, 365 days a year. In that regard, Air Force Medicine is now focusing on human performance. This is not a huge shift for us. Since the Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) began in 1949, Air Force medics have focused on occupational and population health and prevention. We are simply taking it to the next level. Our AFMS Strategy embraces this, and to focus on this as a priority, we recently changed the AFMS Vision:

“Our Supported Population is the Healthiest and Highest Performing Segment of the U.S. by 2025”

This is an audacious but achievable goal, which is focused on health rather than healthcare and is clearly connected to the imperative to assure optimal performance of airmen. Every airman (or other servicemember) has human performance demands placed on them by virtue of their operational and mission tasks — and these demands have changed, rather than decreased, due to the technologies employed in current mission environments.

In view of the evolving Air Force, the AFMS is evolving to ensure that as many of our supported servicemembers are available to their commander as possible, able to perform the exquisite set of skills that are now required of them. Health in the context of mission equates to performance, and every medic or healthcare team must know how the mission might affect the health of the individual or unit and how medical support affects the mission.

I think this is just as relevant for other beneficiaries — to include family members and retirees, who also have performance goals in their day-to-day activities. Toward that goal, we have begun either embedding or dedicating medics to directly support missions such as special operations, remotely piloted aircraft, ISR and explosive ordnance disposal, which have had a clearly positive impact on those airmen, their mission effectiveness and their families. We are moving rapidly to make this “mission specific” support a more widespread practice.

At the clinic level, our intent is to provide customized prevention, access and care for patients, recognizing specific stresses associated with career specialties. Our goal is to prevent physical or mental injuries where possible, and, if unable to prevent, then to provide rapid access to the right team for care and recovery to full performance. As a result, mission effectiveness and quality of life should improve, and long-term injuries or illnesses are mitigated to provide for a healthier, more active life, long after separation or retirement. Concordantly, long-term healthcare costs and disability compensation should also decrease.

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