Washington Watch: Blue Button push

By Diana Manos
08:47 AM

One of the most interesting and innovative elements of the advancement of health information technology that I've encountered, is Blue Button, a web tool patients can use to view and download their personal health information. Blue Button has been in use for two years by the Veterans Health Administration and other healthcare organizations, including Kaiser Permanente, McKesson, Aetna and United Health Group. 

On Aug. 9, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) officials called for public participation in the federal government's "Automate Blue Button Initiative," a federal effort to take Blue Button nationwide. 

The first step is developing standards and specifications that will allow patients to download their health information to their personal computer, 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, according to Lygeia Riccardi, acting director of the ONC Office of Consumer eHealth at ONC and Doug Fridsma, director of the ONC Office of Standards and Interoperability and acting chief scientist. The program will ensure that consumers have the most current, up-to-date information about their health at their fingertips whenever they need it.

Earlier this year, VA's chief technology officer and Blue Button's developer Peter Levin acknowledged the impact Blue Button would have on healthcare. "Blue Button really is on the vanguard of changing the clinical encounter. Patients now have access to their record.  It's all there, all organized," Levin said. 

Levin called the federal Blue Button initiative, "a rare example of government doing only what government can do." 

Ensuring increased patient and family engagement in health and healthcare is a key focus of the Stage 1 and proposed Stage 2 meaningful use rules, says Riccardi. "By empowering patients to be partners in their health and healthcare through information technology, we are enabling them to use their data to: 

  • Better understand their health and make more informed decisions
  • Help to make sure that they and all of their care team members are on the same page
  • Improve the accuracy and completeness of the information
  • Plug it into apps and tools that promise to make information truly available when and where it's needed.

ONC officials are now calling for volunteers and experts to develop standards and pilot the technology, innovators to push the envelope, and patients and providers to test that it works. If their efforts are fruitful, soon the Blue Button will be seen everywhere.