Mostashari experiences Blue Button in action

Most everyone in health IT circles has heard about the Blue Button feature to download personal health information. But as Farzad Mostashari, MD, the national health IT coordinator, found out, you’ve got to see it to appreciate it.

While spending Thanksgiving holidays with family, he signed up his parents from his mobile device, for, which offers the Blue Button feature. It downloaded three years’ worth of his parents’ claims data.

“The only problem is, even for me, it’s a little hard to understand,” he said, sharing his experience at the Dec. 5 Health IT Policy Committee meeting. “There are pages and pages of codes and NPI [national provider identifier)] numbers. It can be really hard to use."

He went into his mobile app store then typed in Blue Button and up popped the winning app of the ONC Blue Button Mash-Up Challenge, the free program called iBlueButton.

“I clicked on it, downloaded it, and put in my parents’ user ID and password for, and it turned that text document, which has all their information, into a really highly usable list of their problem lists and diagnoses, the date, condition and the provider,” he said.

Mostashari noted that his parents live far away from him and sometimes when they tell him they went to the doctor they don’t remember what the physician told them. “But here it was, being able to see it all — surgeries, in-patient and out-patient visits, emergency room visits, tests,” he said.

The effect of this health IT was immediate meaningful use. The next morning, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Mostashari’s father had an emergency, and his physician was hours away. It could have been a terrible day, spending hours waiting at an emergency room. Instead, Mostashari went online to a physician scheduling service, which arranged an appointment with the needed specialist.

Mostashari just showed them the data on the Blue Button app, which listed his father’s previous procedures, dates of service, provider and contact information, so the physician could develop a reasonable plan of action.

“Seeing it is different from just hearing about it. I had announced the winner of the Blue Button Mash-Up, but I didn’t really understand it until I saw my parents’ information in the app,” he said.

“It is so gratifying how far we’ve come, how bright the future is, and how critical it is to have data and how valuable to be able to put information at the fingertips of patients and caregivers, to be able to help them even when you are hundreds of miles away,” Mostashari said.

A lot of caregivers will vouch for that.