Defense Department (DoD) officials today underscored the importance of the agency’s ongoing electronic health records (EHR) modernization efforts at a Senate Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee hearing on the Defense Health Program FY2020 budget request.

The hearing, which included testimony from Army, Air Force, and Navy leaders, covered a wide range of health initiatives including EHRs and the Army Futures Command (AFC). Unsurprisingly, DoD’s multi-billion dollar EHR effort dubbed Genesis, was front and center at today’s hearing.

Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, director of the Defense Health Agency (DHA), called the EHR modernization effort a “critical support component of our readiness mission.” Lieutenant General Dorothy Hogg, surgeon general for the U.S. Air Force, agreed with Bono and called EHR a “critical component of modern medicine.”

Stacy Cummings, program executive officer of the Defense Healthcare Management Systems, explained that the mission of her office is to “to transform the delivery of healthcare and advance data sharing through a modernized EHR for service members, veterans, and their families.” With that in mind, she explained that the DoD is committed to three primary objectives: “deploy a single, integrated inpatient and outpatient EHR, branded MHS GENESIS; improve data sharing with the VA and our private sector healthcare partners; and successfully transform the delivery of healthcare in the Military Health System (MHS) through advanced tools that provide beneficiaries more control over their healthcare experience.”

After awarding the contract in 2015, DHA began the initial rollout of the new EHR system with four medical facilities in the state of Washington, with a worldwide deployment coming over the next five years. Bono said DHA was “encouraged with the initial success of this deployment,” and said MHS Genesis “has improved patient care and patient safety–to include the reduction of thousands of duplicative lab tests, and improvements in medication reconciliation at the time of patient discharge.”

However, Hogg stressed that “replacing legacy electronic health records with GENESIS is a significant additional mission for medical Airmen. Adoption requires broad systems and network improvements, as well as business process changes to achieve standardization and culture change.”

Hogg also offered up lessons learned during a pilot deployment of Genesis with the 92nd Medical Group at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state, offering tips on deployment, training, and how to ease the transition process. And she said her suggestions were already being implemented in future rollouts. “We developed a new training approach in coordination with the Defense Health Agency, informed by the challenges and solutions from Fairchild and the other early sites,” she testified.

Similarly, Cummings also offered up her own lessons learned, including an emphasis on training, testing, and getting buy-in from DoD and medical leadership. She also touched on the importance of maintaining strong cybersecurity of medical data storied in Genesis. She explained that the DoD has “established continuous cyber assessments as a service, leveraging DoD’s formal Cooperative Vulnerability and Penetration Assessment and Adversarial Assessment processes to improve the overall cyber posture of MHS GENESIS.” She claimed that this approach to public/private partnering “not only improves the cyber posture for the DoD but also the vendor’s commercial customers and the healthcare industry in general.”

During the hearing Cummings praised the Department of Veterans Affairs for deciding to deploy the same EHR system as DoD, saying “for the first time ever, medical data from the DoD and VA will be stored in a single database, reducing the burden for our service members and veterans, placing them in the center of their healthcare.”

Cummings also tied the importance of modernizing EHR to the military’s larger mission.

“The threats facing our nation constantly evolve and a medically ready military force is critical to our national defense,” she said. “MHS GENESIS advances that mission. This cutting-edge technology will supply MHS providers with the necessary data to collaborate and make the best possible healthcare decisions for our service members to remain mission ready and mission-focused, contributing to the NDS [National Defense Strategy] strategic approach to restore warfighting readiness and field a lethal force.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.