VA enhances Blue Button features

By Mary Mosquera
03:37 PM

The Veterans Affairs Department will offer a mobile app for its Blue Button feature this year so veterans have more options to view and download their personal health data from the department’s patient portal. 

Vendor Northrop Grumman last year tested a Blue Button mobile application to work on the Apple iPhone, according to James Speros, special assistant to VA’s chief technology officer. Veterans nationwide will have access to mobile Blue Button capabilities for their iPhones. Other vendors are developing Blue Button apps for other smart phones and tablets, he said.

The apps are not just carrying data. “They’re consolidating it, graphing it and making sense of it. They’re helping consumers make decisions about their diets, their medications and their exercise and how they can choose to take action so they can be healthier,” Speros said in a recent webinar sponsored by HIMSS.

Blue Button enables veterans to click to download their personal health information from the MyHealtheVet patient portal to a computer or personal health record in simple ASCII text or PDF file format, which can be viewed, stored or printed. Veterans can then control with whom they share their information.

Veterans have access to data they have entered and categories of clinical data from VA’s VistA electronic health record system.

Last month, VA added data from the Defense Department that is available on Blue Button about veterans’ military service that is useful for health care and employment situations.

[Related: VA CTO says Blue Button changing clinical encounters.]

Another recent addition is the capability for veterans to customize the data they want to download by data category or a date range, for example to prepare for a clinic visit.

My HealtheVet Blue Button has been an “astoundingly successful way of improving how VA relates to veterans and how our veterans relate to us,” Speros said at the Jan. 17 online presentation.

“Blue Button has been a catalyst for creating consumer expectations that consumers will access their data as a routine part of how they will do business. We’re seeing the beginning of Blue Button as a market differentiator, something consumers use to choose my vendor over another,” he said.

Since its launch in August, 376,000 unique registered users have downloaded 900,000 data files through Blue Button, said Kim Nazi, VA management analyst. In a survey, veterans said being able to download medication history is one of the most useful aspects of Blue Button.

"Veterans want us to continue to increase the kinds of data that is available to them as well as to customize the downloads,” she said.

[Q&A: Todd Park on the bridge between HHS' Health Data Initiative and meaningful use.]

Currently, veterans, Tricare military members and Medicare beneficiaries can use Blue Button through their federal patient portals.

Adoption of Blue Button is spreading.Last week, the Office of Personnel Management said it has asked all health insurance carriers participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) to add Blue Button functionality to personal health record systems (PHRs) on their websites.

PatientsLikeMe said Jan. 23 that it has made available a free open-source parser to better translate the Blue Button heath data that is in ASCII text into structured data that computer programs can read and use.

Aetna started offering Blue Button in September and United HealthCare will debut it early this year, speros said.