A new Defense Department agency employs combined medical expertise to track health, illness and injury across the military services, the center director said.
Army Col. Dr. Robert F. DeFraites heads the Maryland-based American Forces Health Surveillance Center, which serves service members, family members, deployed civilian workers, beneficiaries and retirees.
“The mission is to be the strategic-level public health surveillance agency for the Department of Defense, almost ... a very small version of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for the DOD,” DeFraites said last week.
“We are a central resource for epidemiology, which is the study of health and disease in populations,” he said.
The center does its work through three divisions, including Data and Analysis and Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response Systems Operations, called GEIS operations.
The Army Medical Surveillance Activity, for many years recognized as the DOD center for deployment surveillance, became the heart of the new center’s data and analysis division, DeFraites said.
“A doctor or nurse might monitor a patient by taking a temperature and vital signs. In public health we do the same thing but for people in a community,” he said.
Such public health surveillance involves accumulating statistics on rates of illnesses and injuries across a population, monitoring the trends and taking the information to those who can act on it if necessary.
The data comes from pre- and post-deployment health assessments of those who enter the military services, and from the military health system and the TRICARE medical network.
“We combine that with information on what we call demographics — rank, age, marital status, race — and then we associate that with who’s injured or ill, and their immunization status,” DeFraites said.