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While Veterans Affairs officials have delayed the rollout of their new electronic health record system due to ongoing problems, Department of Defense health officials are more than halfway through the rollout of their own system.

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

On June 11, the Defense Ministry’s deployment was halfway through, covering 72 military hospital commands in about 1,590 locations. With the deployment of the system called MHS Genesis at the William Beaumont Military Medical Center in Fort Bliss, Texas and the Eisenhower Military Medical Center in Fort Gordon, Georgia, the deployment is 52% complete, officials said.

The goal is to have a single common medical record for military personnel, veterans and their families. The DoD and VA have worked together to ensure that as service members progress to veteran status, their electronic health record follows them whenever and wherever they need medical care.

The US Department of Defense Electronic Health Record allows health care providers to share patient information with other health care providers both inside and outside the military healthcare system. And through the MHS Genesis Patient Portal, military healthcare recipients have secure 24/7 online access to their health information, including managing appointments and messaging with their healthcare providers. The Genesis Portal replaces Tricare’s secure online patient portal.

DoD and VA use the Oracle Cerner software platform for their electronic health record systems. VA has deployed its system, called Millenium, at three sites. But VA deployments have been plagued with unexpected crashes and systemic issues in some places. On June 17, Virginia officials notified Congress that they were postponing implementation at additional facilities until 2023.

Meanwhile, MoH officials said during a press conference on Tuesday that they have the budget and timetable to complete the worldwide rollout of the Genesis by the end of 2023.

The Department of Defense has procedures in place to ensure health care operations continue in the event of a Genesis downtime, said Holly Joers, executive director of the Defense Healthcare Management Systems program. Officials also constantly monitor the quality of the system by looking at indicators of what data is available.

The Department of Defense took action to avoid some of the problems the VA faced. For example, they did not physically download legacy patient health information into the new Genesis system, but made it available separately in the future. It also took time for officials to understand the work processes, Joers said. “The work of one person affects the next in the chain. … It took us a while to really appreciate this as it rolled out.”

Beyond these initial growth challenges, she said, “We’re in a different place in terms of user numbers and system maturity,” she said. These 1,590 locations have more than 114,000 active users, according to officials.

Genesis has had its own growing pains over the years. More recently, in May, the Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General released a report addressing health care providers’ concerns about the accuracy and completeness of information.

While officials are moving closer to rolling out Genesis over the next 18 months, Joers said that “it’s not just about rolling out healthcare IT. It’s about health outcomes.”

Army Major General (Dr.) George “Ned” Appenzeller, U.S. Department of Defense Department of Health Chief of Staff, also holds the MHS Functional EHR Champion title.

“As a provider … I always expected all of my electronic systems to fail at some point,” he said, noting that every facility has procedures in place to care for patients in the event of downtime. “The electronic health record is an amazing system that helps us provide safe, standardized and efficient patient care. …

“As healthcare professionals, we care about patients no matter the circumstances, and we always take care of patients the best we can,” he said.

“I love tools and I love having an electronic health record,” he said. “I’m an ER doctor, so being able to see what’s going on in someone’s medical history is very important to me.”

This includes what happened in inpatient departments, outpatient clinics, community health care, pharmacies and elsewhere.

“It’s a phenomenal improvement over 20 or 25 years ago when I started caring for patients,” he said. “As a provider, I really appreciate what this does for the safety of our patients and our patients’ outcomes.”

Karen has covered military families, quality of life, and consumer issues for the Military Times for over 30 years and co-authored the chapter on media coverage of military families in the book Combat Plan to Support Military Families. She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Florida, and Athens, Georgia.

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