ONC pushing Blue Button capability for all patients

The Blue Button feature, established two years ago by the U.S. Veterans Affairs (VA) Department for its personal health record (PHR), will move into much wider usage if government plans come to fruition. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) wants to automate the Blue Button, currently available to veterans, military service members and Medicare beneficiaries to obtain their health information, so that all patients have access to the technology.

The Blue Button enables patients to view and download their information in simple text format. ONC is working with the VA to make that happen, according to Lygeia Ricciardi, acting director of ONC’s Office of Consumer eHealth.

But first, standards and technical descriptions for the tool must be identified. So ONC’s Standards & Interoperability Framework will kick off this project Aug. 15 with a webinar to get participants involved in a wiki community.

They plan to develop the standards and specifications that would enable patients to not only download their health information to their personal computer, but also to privately and securely automate the sending of that data from their healthcare providers to their personal health records (PHRs), email accounts, health-related applications or other preferred holding place.

“This will ensure that consumers have the most current, up-to-date information about their health at their fingertips whenever they need it,” Ricciardi said in an Aug. 9 blog.

Access to their information promotes more engagement by patients in their healthcare and ensures that the data is complete and accurate.

Since VA introduced Blue Button, more than several hundred thousand individuals have logged onto the tool to download their personal health information and private health plans, United HealthCare and Aetna, have established Blue Button for their beneficiaries, said Doug Fridsma, MD, director of ONC’s Office of Standards and Interoperability and acting chief scientist.

“Blue Button has grown into a movement,” he said.

The Automate Blue Button project “needs experts to develop standards and pilot the technology, innovators to push the envelope, and patients and providers to test that it works,” Fridsma said.

ONC currently also has a developers’ challenge to mash up Blue Button health information with other relevant data so patients can make better decisions about their care. ONC will award $75,000 in prize money for the winning apps, which are to be submitted by Sept. 5.


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