Blog: Blue Button to be the Xerox, Google of health records?

I want to say something quickly about outsourcing mobile app development.

At the Health 2.0 conference this week in San Francisco, HHS and the Advisory Board Co. announced the winners of their competitions for apps using the Blue Button technology developed by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department.

Allscripts followed up with the launch of its own competition for apps with the hope that its winners' handiworks will become “an extension of Allscripts Open Electronic Health Records software.”

The Chicago-based EHR developer apparently believes staking $750,000 on the effort -- including a top prize of $250,000, which smokes the prize money in other healthcare app challenges I'm aware of -- makes good business sense.

“The award stakes are high for the winners, but so are the stakes for better patient outcomes,” said Stanley Crane, Allscripts chief innovation officer, in a news release about the contest. “By combining Allscripts open architecture with innovative applications we can truly transform the healthcare technology industry.”

I have mixed feelings about these contests, frankly.

I get where the government is coming from, trying to build enthusiasm for the use of its own technology in new and different ways. And, I've seen the feds' app contest tag teammates Aneesh Chopra and Todd Park bounce around on stage hyping the "awesomeness" of innovators often enough to get caught up in their spirit of entrepreneurial pump priming. And, I suppose, Allscripts should be commended for putting some real money behind its own efforts to harness outside creativity.

If these schemes work to create more usable and useful products, we as present and future patients and these organizations all will be better off. I'm not so sure that employed programmers trying to earn a paycheck will see it quite the same way.

I'm more intrigued, however, by what Chopra, the former White House chief technology officer (a post Park holds today) said recently about Blue Button itself. Chopra is now a senior adviser for technology strategy at the Advisory Board.

By the end of the year, Chopra said, 60 million Americans will have access to their records via a simple Blue Button download.

Someday, maybe soon, that term, Blue Button, will become a sort of shorthand for interoperability and health information exchange – like Xerox or Google became for their respective functions.

So, just as we've said, “I'll Xerox you a copy,” or “I Googled that report,” we'll also say, “I'll Blue Button you my labs” or “Here's my Blue Button. That'll give access you to all my records.”

“It's not clear to me that the patient-mediated or consumer-mediated model might not be the best model going forward,” Chopra said.

We've heard a lot of wind about health data banks and personal health records. What they've lacked thus far has been a lingua franca between the multiple healthcare organizations generating the records and the patients using them.

Maybe Blue Button will be another false start down that much talked about road to a patient centered healthcare system, but maybe not.



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