Onward and upward: ONC to automate Blue Button

Developers in an ONC voluntary community are beginning to drill down into what will be required to automate the Blue Button feature to exchange patient health information at the consumer’s request under different scenarios.

The Blue Button enables patients to view and download their information in simple text format and is currently available to veterans, military service members and Medicare beneficiaries. A few private sector health organizations have begun to make it available to their members.

[See also: Blue Button sees 1 million patients sign on]

The ONC’s Standards & Interoperability Framework community has created three panels to identify standards and tools to push personal data to a specific location, such as using Direct secure messaging protocols and the Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture (CDA), and allowing a third-party application to access personal health data on demand, in a pull transmission, according to Doug Fridsma, MD, director of ONC’s Office of Standards and Interoperability and acting chief scientist.

The standards and specifications would enable patients to not only download their health information to their personal computer, but also to privately and securely automate the sending of that data from their healthcare providers to their personal health records, email accounts, health-related applications, or other preferred holding place.

This will support the meaningful use Stage 2 requirement that patients be able to view, download and transmit their health information to a personal health record or other location, he said at the Sept. 19 advisory Health IT Standards Committee meeting.

Developers are also considering the content of a Blue Button file so it can be both readable by humans and my machines, Fridsma said. ONC wants to develop applications to make it easier for patients to access their data and use it.

[See also: Mostashari urges Blue Button-big data]

“The idea is to move from ASCII text files, which are very important for patients just to get access to it, to things that are more standardized structures so that we can have the ability to share between systems and move from one-time download to where we can automate the system as part of the process of care, either making sure that we can push it in a way that makes sense or figure out ways we can pull it into a personal health record,” Fridsma said.

One of the principles of Blue Button is that it is always human readable, added Farzad Mostashari, MD, the national health IT coordinator.

“If we can make it be smart data that can be parsed and machine interpreted, but have like an equivalent of an Adobe reader that can take that and put it into human readable format, then you’ve solved both problems,” he said at the meeting.

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