Military Health Officials: Electronic Health Records Rollout On Schedule and Ready for COVID Vaccine

Carlos Amarillo/

After a pause this spring, the MHS Genesis rollout is back on track, with two deployment waves scheduled for early 2021.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, officials from the Defense Department and U.S. Coast Guard electronic health record program said the effort remains on schedule to fully deploy the MHS Genesis system by 2023.

MHS Genesis is the Defense Department’s new records system, developed by the Leidos Partnership for Defense Health, which includes an EHR platform from Cerner. The system is being rolled out across the DOD and Coast Guard at the same time the Veterans Affairs Department launches its own Cerner-based system.

Defense officials opted to pause the MHS Genesis rollout in April to focus on treating patients with COVID-19 but said Thursday the program remains on track to meet its long-term schedule.

“Obviously, we had to do a little bit of shifting related to the near-term as a result of COVID. But at the end we do end up completing [the rollout] by the end of ’23,” Holly Joers, acting program executive officer for Defense Healthcare Management Systems, said in a call with reporters.

Since resuming the deployment schedule, the system was launched at military treatment facilities in California and Nevada in September and additional sites in California and Alaska in late October. As of Thursday, the MHS Genesis platform is operational at 20 facilities.

“We proudly and safely delivered MHS GENESIS on schedule amid a global pandemic,” Liz Porter, Leidos Health Group president, said in a statement. “These latest deployments have enabled nearly 10,000 clinicians and providers to access a single, common health record during this critical time for our nation.”

“Throughout 2020, like most of Americans, the entire Military Health System has faced very unique challenges,” said Brig. Gen. Ned Appenzeller, assistant director for combat support at the Defense Health Agency.

“However, even with those challenges, I think we’re still on track to fully deploy Genesis by the end of ’23,” he said. “I’m proud of our team’s ability to keep pressing forward and working to deploy the new system.”

Joers confirmed that the timeline remains on track, with the next waves planned for San Diego, California and Carson City, Nevada in early 2021.

“We have about seven waves in flight right now that are in various process of pre-deployment activities,” Joers said. “The nearest one is San Diego after the first of the year.”

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Douglas Schofield, director of acquisition program and program executive officer for the EHR rollout, said early feedback from the service’s August deployments has given them confidence in their timeline, as well.

“The feedback we received from personnel at these sites is providing valuable experience with the system that is informing our deployment of MHS Genesis Coast Guard-wide in the coming year,” he said. “Deployment to Coast Guard Pacific area will commence early next calendar year, followed by deployment to the Coast Guard Atlantic area in mid-calendar year ’21.”

But the year’s challenges—in particular the pandemic—have not subsided, and the teams continue to look at ways to safely train clinical staff on the new systems, as well as prepare for the militarywide vaccination process.

“For our team in particular here, one of our biggest challenges has been making adjustments to our training schedules and our techniques due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and the need to practice social distancing,” Appenzeller said.

While some of the training was able to shift to virtual environments, some things still had to be done in person, Joers said.

“We did do some virtual connection training. But we found opportunities to have socially-distanced spaces to do instructor-led training,” she said. “We also leveraged a program where we were able to take current users of the system and bring them forward to the site to help with them some at-elbow support as we went live.”

Some of these ideas were already in the hopper before COVID-19 hit, Joers said, with the pandemic acting as “a catalyst for us to move forward on some things we talked about after the Travis [wave] go-live” in September 2019.

The entire Military Health System—including installations with MHS Genesis and those working on legacy systems—will have to deal with the impending mass vaccination process, as promising vaccines for preventing COVID-19 infections near completion.

“We’re already putting into place, both for Genesis and our legacy systems, how we will support vaccines once they eventually become available,” Appenzeller said. “Once vaccines become available, the actual administration and tracking of the vaccines with our patients is going to be predetermined in the system. … It’s already being worked, the systems are being put in place.”

The process for administering the vaccines won’t be new, Appenzeller said, but those facilities already using MHS Genesis should have an easier time of it, in his opinion

“My personal opinion is Genesis has actually made it easier at those sites to actually get ready for vaccine when it comes,” he said. “But both of the systems, we have the teams working to prepare for eventual vaccine delivery.”