The contests evolved from ideas shared at a patient access summit in June hosted by the White House, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS and the Veterans Affairs Department. The Blue Button technology at the core of both winners' apps was developed by the VA and launched in its health system in the fall of 2010. It gives veterans a way to download copies of their VA medical records in a plain-text ASCII format, which can be read by a person or a computer.
Since then, Blue Button has been adopted by the Defense Department, Medicare and the Social Security Administration, as well as private health insurers Aetna and UnitedHealth Group. It now also affords users the ability to make copies in the popular PDF document format. By the end of this year, 60 million Americans will be able to access and copy their records via Blue Button technology, according to Aneesh Chopra, the former U.S. chief technology officer who is now a senior adviser for healthcare technology strategy at the Advisory Board.
As its uses and number of users grow, according to Chopra, the Blue Button concept will expand beyond its original ASCII format and come to mean multiple forms of record-sharing in which the patient has control, with the potential of it becoming a common, and maybe even predominant, method for health information exchange.
He could be right, according to Terri Ripley, director of systems and programming at Centra Health, Lynchburg, Va., where a significant number of patients are veterans who also receive care from the VA. Kinergy Health's Blue Button app was pilot-tested by physicians with the two-hospital system. Ripley said one advantage of Blue Button is that “it brings the data down in a PDF that the patient understands” so they can “get comfortable with it.”
Ripley said patients in the demo downloaded the MyKinergy app onto tablet computers they were provided. The trial focused on reconciling medications between Centra Health's prescription drug records for the patient and those kept by the VA and Medicare, she said. “We found medications that we hadn't had documented in the EHR and that helped us get that more complete.”
Centra Health is in a wait-and-see mode on the Blue Button. Centra is about to roll out a commercial information exchange portal to provide a patient interface with its inpatient and outpatient EHR systems, Ripley said, “So we're looking at what they can do with the Blue Button data.”