The Obama administration announced significant adoption for the Blue Button in the private sector on Friday.
In a post at the White House Office of Science and Technology blog, Nick Sinai, U.S. deputy chief technology officer and Adam Dole, a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, listed major pharmacies and retailers joining the Blue Button initiative, which enables people to download a personal health record in an open, machine-readable electronic format:
“These commitments from some of the Nation’s largest retail pharmacy chains and associations promise to provide a growing number of patients with easy and secure access to their own personal pharmacy prescription history and allow them to check their medication history for accuracy, access prescription lists from multiple doctors, and securely share this information with their healthcare providers,” they wrote.
“As companies move towards standard formats and the ability to securely transmit this information electronically, Americans will be able to use their pharmacy records with new innovative software applications and services that can improve medication adherence, reduce dosing errors, prevent adverse drug interactions, and save lives.”
While I referred to the Blue Button obliquely at ReadWrite almost two years ago and in many other stories, I can’t help but wish that I’d finished my feature for Radar a year ago and written up a full analytical report.
Extending access to a downloadable personal health record to millions of Americans has been an important, steady shift that has largely gone unappreciated, despite reporting like Ina Fried’s regarding veterans getting downloadable health information.
According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, “more than 5.4 million veterans have now downloaded their Blue Button data and more than 500 companies and organizations in the private-sector have pledged to support it.”
As I’ve said before, data standards are the railway gauges of the 21st century. When they’re agreed upon and built out, remarkable things can happen. This is one of those public-private initiatives that has taken years to take fruit that stands to substantially improve the lives of so many people.
This one started with something simple, when the administration gave military veterans the ability to download their own health records using from on MyMedicare.gov and MyHealthyVet and scaled progressively to Medicare recipients and then Aetna and other players from there.
There have been bumps and bruises along with the way, from issues with the standard to concerns about lost devices, but this news of adoption by places like CVS suggests the Blue Button is about to go mainstream in a big way.
According to the White House, ”more than 150 million Americans today are able to use Blue Button-enabled tools to access their own health information from a variety of sources including healthcare providers, health insurance companies, medical labs, and state health information networks.”
Notably, HHS has ruled that doctors and clinics that implement the new “BlueButton+” specification will be meeting the requirements of “View, Download, and Transmit (V/D/T)” in Meaningful Use Stage 2 for electronic health records under the HITECH Act, meaning they can apply for reimbursement.
According to ONC, that MU program currently includes half of eligible physicians and more than 80 percent of hospitals in the United States. With that carrot, many more Americans should expect to see a Blue Button in the doctor’s office soon.
In the video below, U.S. chief technology officer Todd Park speaks with me about the Blue Button and the work of Dole and other presidential innovation fellows on the project.
Alexander B. Howard (@digiphile) is a writer and editor based in Washington, DC. He currently holds fellowships at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School and the Networked Transparency Policy Project in the Ash Center at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.