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Blue Button in the spotlight at Consumer Health IT Summit


By Joseph Conn
Posted: September 16, 2013 - 3:00 pm ET
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The federally initiated Blue Button movement for patient data sharing was front and center at the Consumer Health IT Summit that kicked off National Health IT Week in Washington on Monday.

About 500 organizations have joined the Blue Button Pledge Program, potentially making the data sharing technology available to more than 100 million people, according to Lygeia Ricciardi, director of consumer ehealth at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS. Ricciardi hosted several panel discussions as part of day-long consumer health IT activities.

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National health insurance carrier Humana is one of the latest Blue Button participants, enabling its 11 million members to use Blue Button technology in its “smart EOB” program, Ricciardi said, while pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer is now allowing patients to download information about clinical trials in the Blue Button file sharing format. They join the CMS, which already has made three years of Medicare claims data available to participants via Blue Button downloads.

Blue Button is the overarching name for a bundle of data-sharing approaches that has evolved from an initial capability by the Veterans Affairs Department in 2010 to afford patients machine- and human-readable copies of their medical records in the plain text ASCII format. It has since evolved to include other data standards, such as the Continuity of Care Document format, and the Direct messaging protocol to enable data movement in a more organized and actionable way.

By January 2014, the ONC hopes to launch the Blue Button Connector, a website listing all providers, payers and other Blue Button enable-healthcare organizations, according to Peter Garrett, the office's director of communications. The office also has produced three Blue Button promotional videos, featuring a cancer patient, a care-giving mom and a senior citizen, that healthcare organizations can “co-brand” and use to promote Blue Button use on their websites and in their communities.

Two Blue Button application contest winners were featured guests during panel discussions.

Soheil Saadat, founder and CEO of GenieMD, was introduced as the winner of a mobile application design challenge in which the functions of the application were first crowdsourced and voted on, and then those top-ranked ideas were “co-designed” in a collaborative process between the idea people and app developers. Selection of the best app was also crowd sourced in a process that drew nearly 4,400 participants, according to Dr. Rebecca Mitchell Coelius, medical officer for innovation at ONC. The winner of the $25,000 top prize is a consumer-oriented mobile app that can take data from providers and health plans and place it in categories and then run artificial intelligence functions against the data, such as drug-drug reaction and diagnosis support.

Dr. Bettina Experton, president and CEO of Humetrix, developer of iBlueButton, a mobile app that was the winner last year of the $45,000 first prize in an HHS-sponsored competition, said hospitals and physicians in the next few months will start meeting Stage 2 meaningful-use requirements using Blue Button to provide patients with downloaded copies of the medical records. A formal organization, the Blue Button Coalition, of large and small users and developers is “in its formative stage,” Experton said.

National Health IT Week activities are schedule through Friday.

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn


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