While Veterans Affairs officials have delayed the rollout of their new electronic medical records system amid ongoing problems, Department of Defense health officials are more than halfway to the finish line with the rollout of their own system.

The two records systems use the same software platform and are designed to work together.

On June 11, DoD’s rollout passed the halfway mark, reaching 72 military treatment facility commands in about 1,590 locations. With the deployment of the system, called MHS Genesis, at William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Georgia, the rollout is 52% complete, officials said.

The purpose is to have a single, common health care record for military members, veterans and their families. DoD and VA have been working together to ensure that as service members transition to veteran status, their electronic health record follows them whenever and wherever they need health care.

The DoD electronic health record allows health care providers to share information about patients with other health care providers, both inside and outside the military health system. And through the MHS Genesis Patient Portal, military health care beneficiaries have secure, 24/7 online access to their health information, including managing appointments and exchanging messages with their health care providers. The Genesis portal replaces the Tricare Online Secure Patient Portal.

The DoD and VA both use the Oracle Cerner software platform for their electronic health record systems. The VA has deployed its system, called Millenium, at three sites. But the VA rollout at some locations has been plagued by unanticipated outages and system problems. On June 17, VA officials notified Congress they were delaying implementation to additional sites until 2023.

Meanwhile, defense health officials said during a media call Tuesday that they are on budget and on schedule to complete the worldwide rollout of Genesis by the end of 2023.

For DoD, procedures are in place to ensure health care operations can continue in the event there’s any Genesis down time, said Holly Joers, program executive officer of Defense Healthcare Management Systems. Officials also continually monitor the quality of the system, looking at the metrics about what data is available.

DoD has taken actions to avoid some of the problems the VA has had. For example, they haven’t physically loaded patients’ legacy health care information into the new Genesis system, but make it available separately going forward. Officials also took time to understand workflows, Joers said. “One person’s job affects the next one down the line. … We took some time to really appreciate that as we rolled out.”

Beyond those initial growing pains, she said, “We’re in a different place in terms of users we have and the maturity of the system,” she said. There are more than 114,00 active users at these 1,590 locations, officials said.

Genesis has had its growing pains over the years. As recently as May, the DoD Inspector General’s Office issued a report citing health care providers’ concerns about the accuracy and completeness of information.

While officials are closing in on deployments of Genesis over the next 18 months, Joers said, “this is not just about deploying a health IT system. It’s about health care outcomes.”

Army Maj. Gen. (Dr.) George “Ned” Appenzeller, director of staff at the Defense Health Agency, also holds the title of MHS electronic health record functional champion.

“As a provider … I’ve always expected all my electronic systems to go down” at some point, he said, noting that every facility has procedures in place to take care of patients in the event of that down time. “The electronic health health record is an awesome system for helping us provide safe, standardized, effective patient care. …

“As medical providers we take care of patients no matter what the circumstances and we always take the best care of patients we can,” he said.

“I love the tools, and I love having the electronic health record,” he said. “I’m an emergency medicine physician, so being able to see what has gone on in someone’s record is pretty important to me.”

That includes what’s happened in inpatient wards, outpatient clinics, in health care out in the community, in pharmacies and elsewhere.

“This is a phenomenal improvement over what we had 20 or 25 years ago when I started taking care of patients,” he said. “As a provider, I really appreciate what this is doing for the safety of our patients and the outcomes of our patients.”

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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