Limits on medical appointments expected in Europe as military health records system debuts
Stars and Stripes September 22, 2023
Patients at U.S. military bases in Europe may find appointments scarce starting next week as providers switch to the Pentagon’s new electronic medical recordkeeping system.
Military Healthcare System Genesis is expected to be launched Saturday at Defense Department medical clinics in Europe, Turkey and Bahrain.
All clinics in Europe will have fewer routine appointments during the next 60 to 90 days, Kirk Frady, spokesman for Medical Readiness Command, Europe, said Thursday.
The reduction will vary between clinics but availability will gradually increase as medical providers and staff become more familiar with the new system, he said.
Some locations could see the number of appointments drop by half initially, while patients should expect longer waits to see a provider and may have to be referred off base more than usual, military medical officials said this week.
Emergency and acute cases, meanwhile, still have priority.
“We sincerely appreciate everyone’s patience and cooperation as our DOD clinics undergo this monumental change,” Frady said.
Bases in the Indo-Pacific region are slated to switch to Genesis next month. Officials there also have forecast delays.
MHS Genesis was first rolled out in the Pacific Northwest in 2017. The $4.3 billion commercial software system will provide a single, common digital medical record for service members, veterans and military family members once it’s fully operational.
DOD medical providers will use the program to manage delivery of everything from en route care and dentistry to vision and pharmacy services.
Once registered, patients will be able to access their medical records “at the tips of their fingers,” from basic training all to way through retirement, said Air Force Col. Dwayne Baca, commander of the 86th Medical Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Personnel will keep the same digital record as they move among duty stations and providers, with no paper copies lost in the shuffle, he added.
But there will be growing pains as staffers learn how to use the new system, military officials said.
At Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest DOD hospital overseas, and nearby Ramstein Air Base, which serves 17,000 beneficiaries, about 50% fewer appointments will be available across the board in the immediate weeks following the transition, officials from both bases said this week.
In Italy, Aviano Air Base patients with acute medical conditions will have priority for limited appointments, officials there said this week, adding that the squeeze will be felt by all beneficiary categories.
Appointments at all LRMC clinics, including primary and specialty care, will be reduced temporarily, hospital spokesman Marcy Sanchez said Friday. The goal is to return to the full patient caseload by Jan. 1, 2024, he said.
At Ramstein, about half of appointments that are normally available will be offered in the early days of the transition, Baca said. But “medical care is going to continue the way it always does,” he said.
That extends to services such as lab tests and prescriptions, although lab test results may take longer to upload. Patients will be contacted directly with any urgent results, he said.
The two pharmacies at Ramstein, including the satellite clinic in the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center, will continue filling prescriptions, but wait times at the counter may be longer in the next two weeks, Baca said.
For routine appointments at Ramstein, patients are asked to arrive about 25 minutes early because check-in is expected to take longer during the transition, he added.
Until Oct. 4, medical appointments should be made by phone on the medical group’s appointment line, 06371-462273. After that, appointments can be made online through the new MHS Genesis patient portal.
Likewise at LRMC, patients will be able to start scheduling appointments on the patient portal on or after Oct. 3, Sanchez said.
The new portal replaces Tricare Online for managing appointments and medications, secure messaging with providers and accessing patients’ medical history.
To limit delays, people are encouraged to begin learning and using the patient portal rather than calling a clinic, Sanchez said.
The hospital at Landstuhl will help patients sign up for Genesis and answer questions about it. Instruction will be offered Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Heaton Auditorium.