Military Health System debuts new Web presence

The Military Health System operates many Web sites packed with useful information, but they had such drab interfaces and hard-to-navigate pages that true "jewels of information were hidden from our operational folks," Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, said in an interview with Government Executive.

Casscells said he kicked off a redesign of the MHS Web site this October to make essential information more accessible to medical and nonmedical personnel and families, and to improve public knowledge of the system, an effort he characterized as "only halfway there."

To date, the repositioning of MHS' site includes a crisper look that owes a lot to commercial Web design, along with easier to navigate features accessible from a top-level series of buttons arranged under the MHS banner.

The site is easier to find under its new URL, www.health.mil, than its previous address, too.

The site now includes a blog under Casscells' name that he hopes will help flatten the bureaucracy.

It also showcases insights derived from the battlefield by enlisted medics and corpsmen. Casscells described the blog item written by Army Sgt. Matthew Sims, wounded three times in Iraq, as one that truly resonates with a wide audience.

An Army Reserve colonel, Casscell had an extensive career in private sector medicine and academia before taking over MHS this April. He said his private sector colleagues viewed the military as "mired in a hopeless bureaucracy," but, he said, "it's not hopeless, it's just slow."

His blog, which he routinely turns over to other members of his staff, will help accelerate communications not just inside the Beltway, he said, but in the field as well, allowing him to hear from privates and corporals in addition to colonels and generals.

Blog feedback from the troops in the field still suffers from an institutional reluctance from the far end of the command chain to chime in, but Casscells emphasized that he wants to use the blog for dialogue, not from-the-top lectures.

The main page also will become the window into the "jewels of information" that are currently hard to locate on subsidiary sites such as the Force Health Protection and Readiness Web page. Highlighting this information, he said, will boost accessibility for users.

There also are plans to start streaming educational programs to military medical professionals worldwide over the next few months. Mental health, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are topics that Casscells considers "critical areas" for such exposure.

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