By MARIAN ACCARDI
The Department of Defense’s new electronic health care records system, MHS Genesis, which will provide a single health record for service members, retirees and their families, was launched at Fox Army Health Center on Sept. 26.
Patients have been impacted with several issues, including a backlog with pharmacy medications and increased wait times for appointments, according to Lt. Col. Jon Strobel, deputy commander for clinical services at Fox.
“The goal is that we get back to a better state than where we currently are within the next couple of weeks to a month,” Strobel said, but the timeline “really hinges on a lot of variables, some are in our control and some are not.”
He said there will “continuously be a growth (in capacity) over the next couple of months.”
The Military Health System serves 9.5 million of the country’s service members, retirees and their families globally and, when the final wave of the rollout of MHS Genesis to all military hospitals and clinics is complete, they will have access to the records system wherever they receive services. The MHS Genesis Patient Portal is a secure website for 24/7 access to health information, including managing appointments and exchanging messages.
“(MSF Genesis) is going to incorporate inpatient, outpatient and Veterans Affairs operations so it’s going to be more of a one-stop location for all beneficiaries’ medical records,” Strobel explained. He said the deployment originally started on the West Coast and, “in phases, it’s sequencing across the United States and eventually around the globe” to all Department of Defense organizations’ locations.
“It’s a one-stop for your health-care providers to review your records,” Strobel said. “It’s also the newer phase of the digital age regarding electronic medical records. So, you as a beneficiary will be able to readily access your records through the online MHS Genesis patient portal.”
The Fox staff prepared in advance for the transition.
“In anticipation of the go-live date, we did a lot of preparatory work with train-up of our employees and volunteers to gain experience,” Strobel said. “We even came in on the Saturday before to run through some patient scenarios to get familiarity with the process.”
There’s been a “steep learning curve” with the new system, Strobel said, and “our employees are constantly getting better and gaining efficiencies to get back to the high-quality care that we’ve provided in the past and continue to strive to deliver.”
On Oct. 19, starting at 11 a.m., Fox pharmacy operations were suspended for the rest of the day to give personnel time to catch up on the backlog of requests for medications.
“As other federal organizations, we are challenged by hiring actions and the staff that we do have is very dedicated,” he said, and “they’re learning and honing their knowledge of the new system. Patience and understanding will go a long way to make sure that health care delivery is as effective and efficient as possible.”
One of the major impacts to patients is “increased wait times of making an appointment as well as availability of appointments,” Strobel said. “As we hone and craft and gain proficiency with the new electronic medical records, that degrades the volume of patients we can see at any given time. The degradation in increased wait times on making appointments is going to be present for a while.”
Strobel said another impact has been “intermittent access to the messaging system and the eventual online appointment booking.
“Most of our systems are now centrally managed and with cloud-based systems, they have intermittent operations at times that we’ll have to navigate through,” he said.
Strobel recommended that patients continue to monitor Fox social media and website for the latest information on any changes in health care delivery.
Pharmacy services have been impacted as well, according to Strobel.
“Systems that are in place require extra steps that then take a little extra time,” he said. “Individually, it’s not necessarily that much of an issue but when you compound it to the 1,200-plus transactions or prescription fills (on average) we do a day, that adds up over time and leads to the backlogs that we’re currently seeing.”
Around 11,500 beneficiaries are enrolled for health care delivery at Fox, according to Strobel. “However, we service over 60,000 when it comes to pharmacy and laboratory services,” he said.
“Right now, at present time, same-day service for pharmacy is not an achievable goal,” with patients “looking at 72 hours-plus for prescription refills and obtaining medications,” Strobel said. “So, messaging us early for those refills will help drive that back to where we can get to the same day. If there is something that’s more time sensitive, please message your providers through the MHS Genesis portal” for pharmacy requirements, he said.
Strobel asked patients to try to project health care needs as best they can and message health-care providers as soon as possible.
“Like every other DOD facility, we’re going through hiring actions,” Stobel said. “With the transition to Defense Health Agency, we’ve had to re-announce several positions, which has delayed the hiring of some staff members. So, once we get our feet under us with that transition” and the MHS Genesis transition, “we will get back to the standard health care delivery that the Redstone community has been accustomed to.”
On Oct. 1, 2018, the agency began a four-year transition to assume authority, direction and control of the DOD’s more than 400 clinics, hospitals, and medical centers.
Strobel provided some alternative options to minimize wait times:
• For emergency services, go directly to the nearest Emergency Room or dial 911.
• For non-emergency services, go to the online MHS Genesis Patient Portal to securely message your provider or call the 24/7 Tricare Nurse Advice Line to speak with a licensed nurse at 1-800-874-2273, option 1.
• For Military Readiness evaluations to include Periodic Health Assessments and Flight Physicals, call 355-8888, extension 1410 and leave message with request.
Additionally, Tricare beneficiaries can use the following medical services:
Doctor on Demand, a 24/7 virtual urgent care access to doctors and mental health specialists. Download the app, or go to doctorondemand.com.
Tricare-eligible dependents can use a network urgent care center.
Active-duty service members will require a referral for both virtual and network urgent care and mental health visits.