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ONC prompts vendors to ease consumers' access to health information

View, download and transmit. Those three straightforward functions should be readily at the disposal of healthcare consumers, according to Farzad Mostashari, MD, the national health IT coordinator.

Mostashari has challenged vendors to make it easy for consumers by early 2013 to view, download and transmit to another party their health information in the form of a Blue Button feature.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) has established a Twitter hashtag of #VDTnow for companies and organizations to post their commitment to establishing the feature.

[See also: Consumer technologies come into play as payers facilitate wellness activities.]

Implementing the functionality for view, download and transmit (VDT) to a third party, “I think, is underappreciated for how significant that’s going to be to the concept of consumer-mediated health information exchange,” Mostashari said at a Sept. 10 ONC summit on consumer health IT.

“It moves us from personal health records tethered to this particular provider’s or that particular health plan’s data source to the concept of a personally controlled health record,” he  said, adding that it will accelerate capabilities for stage 2 meaningful use requirements in 2014 for patient engagement and health information exchange.

The summit was the first of several events observing Health IT Week in Washington, D.C.

Health IT companies, providers and healthcare organizations can offer patients access to and a copy of their electronic information through patient portals linked to their electronic health records (EHRs), a Blue Button feature on their personal health record (PHR) software or other applications on patients’ computers.

Blue Button was developed first for veterans to access their information through their HealtheVet personal record in a simple ASCII text file. More than 1 million veterans have downloaded their information, according to the Veterans Affairs Department. Military service members and Medicare beneficiaries also have a Blue Button capability, and it is beginning to be deployed in the private sector.

Among the vendors who said they would have a Blue Button feature early next year by the time of the HIMSS 2013 annual conference in March were eClinicalWorks, Greenway Medical, SOAPware, Athenahealth and Cerner. RelayHealth said it already has Blue Button available.

“Blue Button has evolved from veterans getting their own data, but is now a national concept 'to give me my data,'” Mostashari said. Among the goals for ONC’s consumer health IT program is to nudge patients to access their data and take action with it.

One of the first veterans to participate in using Blue Button, Randy Watson, of Joplin, Mo., who has complex heart ailments and diabetes, said he did so because “it’s my right to have my record.”

“They are my medical records, and with Blue Button I have control over them, and they are correct,” he said, adding that he also has the mobile phone app for Blue Button.

Surveys have shown that patients want their information but are unaware that they can ask for it, according to Lygeia Ricciardi, acting director of ONC’s Office of Consumer eHealth.

One year ago when ONC launched its consumer ehealth program, 30 organizations that are data holders and non-data holders pledged to make it easier for patients to gain access to their information, and now more than 400 organizations have committed to doing that over time, Ricciardi said.

[See also: Social media stretches boundaries for physicians and patients.]

“Data holders are pledging to make the information easily electronically available, while the non-data holders, a broader category, are helping to spread the word to go out there and do it, and also building the tools that are going to make that appealing and useful to people,” she added.

For example, ONC will announce the winner next week of a developer’s challenge to mash up Blue Button data with other kinds of data.

ONC also wants to help change attitudes of patients. “Have you ever felt a little uncomfortable asking your doctor for your information? Part of what we’re doing to encourage people is to let them know that it’s okay to ask for your records,” Ricciardi said.

ONC also plans to add two workgroups to its advisory Health IT Policy and Standards committees to advance patient engagement. The public will have a chance to nominate individuals to those groups, she said.