Integrating Department of Defense Occupational Health Services

Army hearing test

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

Background

The Department of Defense (DoD) is considering moving toward a more integrated employee health system. If it does, a foundation of information about the current system and requisite elements for such integration will be needed.

Research Goals

The objective of this project was first to review and evaluate the structure, capacity and performance of current DoD programs that are related to occupational health. Second, the research team was asked to recommend specific options for DoD to consider in the design of an integrated and comprehensive Employee Health Program for its active duty workforce.

Research Findings

The research team reviewed the research literature and DoD policy documents and interviewed DoD personnel to make several observations about the current state of safety and occupational health (SOH) arrangements in DoD. They observed that SOH policy cuts across several organizations at high levels in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and programs are implemented by each of the military services. Leadership attention has focused on safety, mostly apart from occupational health, as a separate priority.

DoD and the services have made efforts to increase coordination, including both high-level formal councils and through informal relationships among SOH practitioners. Health promotion and wellness have received considerable attention within DoD through periodic health assessments and educational programs, but these areas have not benefited from the same increased coordination.

As DoD contemplates a more integrated approach, the research team considered what DoD might learn from civilian experience with integrating employee health activities. To address this, the team reviewed civilian models of integration to identify promising approaches and practices that might inform DoD efforts.

The review of activities related to employee health in DoD — including industrial hygiene, safety, health promotion and wellness, occupational health, and its relatively mature health information technology infrastructure — indicates that there might be little need for DoD to introduce new programs but more need to make use of the information generated by the existing programs in a more coordinated, integrated manner.