Blue Button builds momentum inside and outside the VA

The Blue Button campaign that enable veterans to download their medical records from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and non-VA providers is exceeding the government's expectations.

Half a million veterans and Medicare patients, including non-veterans, have already downloaded their records using the Blue Button interface, VA CIO Roger Baker told reporters in a recent media briefing. By the end of fiscal 2012, he predicted, "upward of 60 million individuals will have access to their medical information through Blue Button. We're getting a lot of adoption by private sector organizations."

About 60 private entities have committed to providing Blue Button downloads of patients' medical records, according to Healthcare IT News. Among them are Kaiser Permanente, McKesson, Microsoft HealthVault, Aetna and UnitedHealth Group.

In addition, according to the article, some overseas organizations also are interested in the Blue Button. Apollo Hospitals Group, a major Asian healthcare provider, reportedly plans to adopt this method of providing health records to patients.

The VA introduced the Blue Button personal health record in 2010 as a simple way for veterans to access their medical records as ASCII text files, which are exchangeable between many different systems. Last summer, the department offered a $50,000 cash prize to anyone who could create an application to download records in the Blue Button format from the electronic health records of non-VA providers. The winner had to arrange to have the personal health record installed on the websites of 25,000 providers. McKesson's RelayHealth subsidiary won that prize in October.

The purpose of the contest was to enable veterans cared for by non-VA physicians to access their records online. But the idea caught the attention of many other organizations that wanted to share clinical and/or claims data with patients who are not veterans, as well.

Aetna, for example, has offered a PHR to its members for several years. Since September, the national insurance giant has offered members the option to use the Blue Button option to download their PHR information as a text file. This allows patients to share their personal health data more easily with their providers, according to a statement. "By 2012, Aetna expects to give members the ability to send text files of their PHR data directly to their Aetna network providers through Aetna's secure provider website," a press release said.

Meanwhile, the Blue Button also figured in the recent "Transitions of Care" contest, sponsored by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). The second-place winner of that contest, iBlueButton--part of San Diego-based Humetrix Inc.--developed a mobile app for cell phones and tablet computers that can download veterans' health records and "push" them to providers' tablet or desktop computers.

To learn more:
- see the Healthcare IT News article
- read the Roger Baker Q&A on EHRWatch
- check out the Aetna press release from September
- see the Health 2.0 News piece on the ONC contest