ONC Pushes Blue Button Web Tool for All Patients

Technology allows patients to download medical information in a simple format.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is seeking volunteers to help expand the federal government’s Blue Button Web tool for the Department of Veterans Affairs personal health record to all patients. Blue Button lets patients view and download their medical information in simple text format. 

“We need experts to develop standards and pilot the technology, innovators to push the envelope, and patients and providers to test that it works,” wrote Lygeia Ricciardi, acting director of the ONC Office of Consumer eHealth, and Dr. Doug Fridsma, director of the ONC Office of Standards and Interoperability, in an Aug. 9 blog post.

Fridsma’s office is hosting a Web seminar on Wednesday to jumpstart the Automate Blue Button initiative. ONC also plans to have a meeting in Washington on Sept. 10 to discuss patient-engagement strategies.

For now, Blue Button is available only to VA, military and Medicare beneficiaries, Government Health IT noted. ONC wants to make the tool available to all patients, but it needs to identify standards and technical descriptions to do so. That’s where the ONC-backed initiative comes in.

The goal is to allow patients to download health information to their personal computer in a simple format and securely automate data transfers from health-care providers to the patient’s personal health record, email account, health-related applications and other “preferred holding places,” Ricciardi and Fridsma wrote.

They noted that patient engagement is a key element of Stage 1 meaningful use guidelines, and of proposed Stage 2 guidelines. Health-care providers must demonstrate that their electronic health records meet those guidelines to qualify for substantial financial incentives through Medicare and Medicaid.