Healthcare Business News

Guidance aims to boost Blue Button

By Joseph Conn
Posted: January 23, 2013 - 1:30 pm ET

Last year, former White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra said there would be a bigger Blue Button in the future.

That future would be now.

Technical guidance for developers to expand the functionality—and, it is hoped, the use—of the Blue Button secure-messaging protocol has been posted to the website

“With this implementation guidance, we are evolving the requirements associated with the Blue Button. Data holders (such as providers and payers, and their vendors) and receivers (such as PHRs and other apps and services) that choose to follow this guidance will be known as providing 'Blue Button+' to their users,” according to the website.

What became known as Blue Button started as an effort three years ago within the Veterans Affairs Department to afford patients of the VA healthcare system and technologically simple way of accessing copies of their healthcare records. The VA configured its VistA electronic health records system to produce copies in the plain-vanilla ASCII file format with the press of a button on their VistA-linked personal health record. The color of the button was, of course, blue.

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Since then, the technical capabilities have expanded, as has Blue Button's reach. Several commercial payers, such as Aetna and United HealthCare, have adopted a Blue Button approach to providing their members access to their records at the touch of a button. So, too, have the CMS for Medicare beneficiaries, and the Defense Department for its personnel.

Last fall, Chopra, now a senior adviser for healthcare technology strategy at the Advisory Board, predicted Blue Button would expand beyond its original ASCII format and offer multiple forms of record-sharing in which the patient has control, with the potential of it becoming a common, and maybe even the predominant, method for health information exchange.

Today, according to a statement on the organization's website, “Blue Button+ gives users the ability to get records in a human-readable and machine-readable format; and to send them where they choose. This enables a consumer to do everything from printing a physical copy to sharing it with a third-party application.”

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