White House Pushes Blue Button

Broader Adoption of Secure Records Downloads Sought
White House Pushes Blue Button

A new Presidential Innovation Fellows program, which seeks developers for short-term technology assignments, includes a project designed to spread the use of the Blue Button medical records secure download function.

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The Blue Button, popularized by the Department of Veterans Affairs, enables patients to securely download certain medical records in a simple text file.

The fellowship program was announced May 23 in conjunction with the Obama Administration's new "digital government" strategy that requires every federal agency to make at least two services available to the public via mobile applications within a year (see: Obama Unveils Mobile Tech Strategy).

The Blue Button effort is one of five projects in the fellowship program that will "pair top innovators from the private sector, non-profits or academia with federal government employees to collaborate on game-changing solutions that aim to deliver significant business results in just six months," according to a White House announcement. "Each team of innovators will work together in-person in Washington on focused sprints while being supported by a broader community of interested citizens throughout the country."

For the Blue Button project, the White House is seeking one "high-impact, high-energy entrepreneur" to lead the effort for six to 12 months, starting in July. The project is designed to spread Blue Button implementation in the private sector and help to "stimulate the development of tools that can help individuals utilize their own data to improve their health and healthcare," the announcement states.

How It Works

The Blue Button concept, which the Markle Foundation developed in collaboration with other groups, calls for the use of a set of privacy and security policies (see Using Blue Button for Records Access).

By clicking on the button on a website, patients can securely download and store certain health information and then share it with physicians and others. Patients also can authorize the use of a Blue Button transfer of their medical data from one physician to another.

Almost 1 million Americans have used the Blue Button to download health information, such as current medications, drug allergies, treatment data and lab reports, according to the White House announcement.

More than 500,000 veterans are using the Blue Button to download information from their My HealtheVet personal health record, says Roger Baker, CIO at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Blue Button is also available to members of the armed forces and Medicare beneficiaries. Plus, it's available to patients of more than 250,000 physicians in the private sector, Baker says. Insurers Aetna, UnitedHealthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield are among those that have committed to using the download function, he adds.

In January, The Office of Personnel Management asked health insurers in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program to add Blue Button functionality to their websites (see: Blue Button Secure Downloads Expand).

More information about the VA's blue button effort is available on the VA website.

Other Fellowship Projects

The four other fellowship projects include:

  • Creating a system that enables U.S. government programs to move from making cash payments to support foreign policy, development assistance, government operations or commercial activities to using electronic payments via mobile devices, smart cards and other methods;
  • Launching open data initiatives designed to ease consumer access to information on the web, "whether it's finding the right healthcare provider, identifying the college that provides the best value for their money, saving money on electricity bills through smarter shopping or keeping their families safe by knowing which products have been recalled ...;"
  • Improving government websites by creating a "streamlined and intuitive system for presenting information and accepting feedback around the needs of citizens;"
  • Creating a streamlined process for the federal government to do business with small, high-growth companies by easing the "request for proposal" process.

About the Author

Howard Anderson

Howard Anderson

News Editor, ISMG

Anderson is news editor of Information Security Media Group and was founding editor of HealthcareInfoSecurity and DataBreachToday. He has more than 40 years of journalism experience, with a focus on healthcare information technology issues. Before launching HealthcareInfoSecurity, he served as founding editor of Health Data Management magazine, where he worked for 17 years, and he served in leadership roles at several other healthcare magazines and newspapers.

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