VA launches contest to expand Blue Button

By Mary Mosquera
01:23 PM

The Veterans Affairs Department will launch a developers’ competition to expand the deployment and use of its Blue Button functionality that enables patients to download their health information to all veterans who receive care from providers outside of the VA.

Blue Button is a simple, convenient and secure method over the Internet for a patient to retrieve his or her information in plain text ASCII format.

The competition starts July 18, and VA will announce the winner Oct. 18, VA said. The first prize is $50,000.

By clicking the Blue Button tab in MyHealtheVet, VA's patient portal, veterans can download demographic information used to fill in the clipboard at providers’ offices and some categories of clinical information, such as their medication list, medical conditions, and most recently, lab and test results, into a personal health record (PHR) on their computer and print it out or share it with other providers. 

MyHealtheVet contains information to let veterans track their health status, schedule appointments, refill prescriptions and communicate with their providers through secure messaging.

“VA believes that Blue Button personal health records have now been sufficiently tested and proven useful to be made available for use throughout the U.S. by veterans who receive their care from non-VA facilities and providers and by the public generally,” VA said July 15 in an announcement in a preview section of the Federal Register. 

Other federal agencies have established Blue Button functionality--the Defense Department for its Tricare beneficiaries and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for seniors using Medicare services.

Many veterans receive some or all of their care from private providers. Spreading Blue Button will advance the sharing of information and give veterans the capability to compile health data from multiple physicians, hospitals and health plans, both inside and outside the government.

The establishment of Blue Button will also support providers in meeting meaningful use requirements to enable their patients to have view and download their health information, VA said.

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

The Blue Button application will be able to verify the identity of the person who receives the information and follow the security rule under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as it does through the federal health websites.

VA has said that its Blue Button information is also the first step in what veterans will see when it stands up the virtual lifetime electronic record (VLER) nationwide. VLER is VA’s development of a single electronic system to track the medical, benefits and administrative records of service members from their induction into the military throughout their lives as veterans. VA ihas been testing the exchange of veterans’ health information in several regions around the country.