The Coast Guard is now prioritizing a review of health-related data to determine how to reduce illness and injuries within the Coast Guard workforce. This shift is prompted by a policy update within the Coast Guard Medical Manual COMDTINST 6000.7, as well as the new Population Health Optimization Work Group (PHOWG) that will impact members, civilians, dependents, and retirees.
“What this new policy does is make it more clear that we are not just about ensuring service members have medical care, but rather that they have the care they need to stay healthy,” said Capt. John Iskander, Coast Guard chief of Preventive Medicine and Population Health. “In other words, preventive medicine can be something as simple as having clean water to drink or safe and healthy food.”
Adm. Dana Thomas, director of Health, Safety and Work-Life chartered the Population Health Optimization Work Group (PHOWG) in June. It will monitor and analyze trends in health-related data for the Coast Guard population as a whole and look to make things better. The data is not viewed at an individual level but is aggregated for big picture analysis. “Creating the work group helps us ensure that we are regularly looking at these lines of evidence,” said Iskander. He stressed that the work group will examine not only the health care that members get but also access to mental health and other services.
Iskander further explained that looking at population health means looking at the data to keep an overall health portfolio for the workforce. Trends can sometimes appear downward in some cases where measurement had not previously occurred. For example, Iskander notes that the Coast Guard has recently added a number of behavioral health care providers. “As people learn about them, we expect the number of visits for behavioral care to increase, and that’s probably a good thing," he said.
Measurement also allows the team to observe other life events like child births. “You realize that overall preventive care is not just looking at individuals with their hospital visits and clinic visits, but remembering that Coast Guard members are part of families,” said Iskander.
So far, the PHOWG has begun using the data by comparing it to other military services and specifically looked at the typical numbers surrounding common issues like musculoskeletal issues, strains, and overuse issues, as well as heat related illnesses. Iskander said the group took action to prevent the experience of heat related issues and “we worked with a safety team to make sure members are taking the steps to hydrate properly,” he said. The concern was also communicated to the field through an ALSAFETY and other outreach efforts, stressing the need for adequate hydration and to be on the lookout for specific symptoms of heat illness.
Iskander reminds everyone that during your annual visit, ask if you are due for any vaccines or disease screenings. Also, ask for any options related to one-on-one preventive medicine like being screened for anxiety, for example. “Ultimately we want to make sure people get the care they need,” said Iskander, “no matter where they serve or are stationed in the Coast Guard.”
Please email Capt. John Iskander any questions about PHOWG or policy questions. Hardcopies of the policy change is not available, however, an electronic copy can be viewed here.