Blue Button gets more powerful

'People want more types of data, they want it in formats that are easier to use, and they want to be able to more easily access it'
By Frank Irving
08:39 AM
Blue Button gets more powerful

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has big plans for Blue Button, the mechanism that enables consumers to securely download their health information, as part of an overarching effort to enhance patient engagement.

"Providers who engage patients create an environment in which patients feel a partnership," said Ellen Makar, senior program analyst at ONC. "These providers are assisting patients in accessing their own data, and making them feel that they can own their treatment options and share in decision-making."

The EHR meaningful use program is important in this area, Makar explained Tuesday during an ONC-led town hall session at the mHealth Summit in National Harbor, Md. Stage 2 of MU calls for patients to be able to view, download and transmit their information, and Blue Button — while not the only way to give patients those capabilities — is certainly a very recognizable and increasingly popular means to that end.

[See also: ONC aims to put Blue Button on automatic.]

Through the technology, patients can get allergy history, encounters, family histories, immunizations and medication lists. Soon, additional information will become available to patients and, along the continuum to providers and other caregivers they want to share it with.

"We're not stopping here," added Rebecca Coelius, MD, medical officer for innovation at ONC. "People want more types of data, they want it in formats that are easier to use, and they want to be able to more easily access it."

ONC wants data to be available in machine-readable format so that it can be "passed around to the different places people want to put their data," Coelius said. "And we need to be passing it around in a dependable way — not in time-consuming, expensive integrations."

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

Among the future directions for Blue Button expansion:

Incorporating OpenNotes, a program that has shown effectiveness in giving patients access to their provider notes.
Facilitating the handling of images such as EKGs. Images should not be treated differently from the rest of the data a physician has entered into the EHR, according to ONC.

  • Handling medication, lab and patient-generated data. "We're interested in not just information going out to patients, but information coming back in and being incorporated in the provider's EHR," said Coelius.
  • Providing easy access to vaccination records.
  • Serving as a conduit for patient-friendly Explanation of Benefit forms from insurers.
  • Matching eligible patients to clinical trails.

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