Problems with the rollout of technology connected to the Defense Department’s electronic health record system are severe enough to endanger patients’ lives, a senator said during a Thursday hearing.

“Disturbing reports” of inaccurate prescriptions, misdirected patient referrals, long wait times and simply opening a patient’s records in a timely fashion go beyond “a normal IT problem,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel.

“This has had a significant morale impact on practitioners in my state, not to mention concerns about putting patients’ lives at risk,” Murray said.

The four initial locations for the new technology are in Murray’s state: Fairchild Air Force Base, Naval Hospital Bremerton, Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor and Madigan Army Medical Center.

The new system, dubbed MHS Genesis, will be rolled out worldwide by 2022, said Stacy A. Cummings, program executive officer of Defense Healthcare Management Systems. The Veterans Affairs Department has also announced plans to implement the MHS Genesis.

Cummings said DoD has been working to address the problems after receiving feedback about issues across multiple parts of the new program. She said officials made a technology upgrade Wednesday that’s designed to reduce the time it takes to log in to the system; that initial step, she said, “was a challenge, especially doing documentation with a patient in the room.”

Several hundred specialists were sent to the sites to work with those using the technology to determine what were training issues and what were technology issues, as part of their efforts to address problems.

Officials have been addressing a backlog of about 7,000 trouble tickets, and are in the process of closing out 1,000 of them, Cummings said. Another 2,000 require fixes that should be complete by year’s end, and about 2,500 involve decisions regarding how the system’s technical functions should work.

“It’s my understanding that a lot of these were identified long before the deployment of this,” Murray said. “These should have been addressed before people were using it.

“I don’t want everyone to think this is happy-dappy rosy, since there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed and we need to stay on top of it.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told a Senate panel that the Defense Department medical-record technology being rolled out in her state had major problems. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told a Senate panel that the Defense Department medical-record technology being rolled out in her state had major problems. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

DoD was an “early pioneer” in the development of a centralized, global electronic health record when it introduced the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, or AHLTA, in 2004, Cummings said. But the private sector has made significant advances in technology since then, and DoD wants to take advantage of those advances, without carrying the financial burden alone, she said.

The new system allows a single, integrated inpatient and outpatient electronic health record; improves data sharing with VA and private-sector health care providers; and gives beneficiaries more control over their health care experience, she said.

MSH Genesis will replace DoD legacy health care systems and make electronic health care records available for more than 9.4 million DoD beneficiaries.