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ONC Attempting to Create Consumer Demand for Blue Button

November 11, 2014
by Gabriel Perna
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Phase three of the Blue Button initiative is underway

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s (ONC) Blue Button initiative is one of the agency’s hallmark projects and will continue to be a focal point, according to ONC’s Erin Siminerio; speaking on a recent webinar.

Siminerio joined Amy Gleason, R.N. of CareSync, a personal health record application company, and Daniel Sands, M.D. of Harvard Medical School and the Society for Participatory Medicine, to talk about the Blue Button on a webinar presented by nonprofit group, the Health Data Consortium. The Blue Button is a public-private collaborative initiative from the ONC that aims to give patients easier and more sensible access to their health data. What began as a pilot within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Health has shifted into an industrywide focus.

The project has been rolled out in three phases, the ONC’s Siminerio revealed, since the initial VA pilot in 2010, which was a success. Phase one was making patient data available. This was part of former HHS chief technology officer Todd Park’s “Informacion Liberacion” push a few years back. Phase two was the creation of compelling apps. The ONC has moved this forward with various developer challenges centered on creating a user-friendly blue button interface. Recently, the ONC released the Blue Button Toolkit, which provides a portfolio of standards that enable Blue Button capabilities.

While still working on the other two phases, the agency is focused on phase three. This involves driving up consumer demand. ONC recently launched the Blue Button Consumer Campaign. For the campaign, it has created promotional materials that it’s sending out to government and nonprofit stakeholders. It’s launched the Blue Button connector, which gives patients a space to find out which applications exist to give them access to their data. It also includes an open application programming interface (API) for developers to help them understand what information is available. The connector is all about transparency, said Siminerio on the webinar.

In total, Siminerio stressed the need for a “supportive environment” that encourages patients to receive and ask for their information. She said there needs to be more incentives to create an environment that supports consumer demand. “We need that to be more of a reality than it would naturally occur,” she said. “We can all play a role in this making this a social norm. That’s what it will take to make this more mainstream.”  

Earlier in the webinar, she mentioned how there was a perfect storm pushing the movement forward. The “storm” included driving factors such as policy alignment (the meaningful use Stage 2 view, download, and transmit requirements and updates to the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act and the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments Act), changes in reimbursement models, cheaper and better IT being made available, consumer demand, and the growing use of mobile.

She also pulled data from a Health Affairs study, citing how more than one out of three patients reported experiencing one or more gaps in their care. On the issue of creating consumer demand, other studies have shown that few patients know they even have access to their health data.

The webinar also featured advocacy on from Gleason, whose was encouraged to join CareSync, a company that aggregates health data on a secure platform for patients, after dealing with her daughter’s illness as well as Dr. Sands, a fierce advocate of patient involvement in their care and co-author of a book, Let the Patients Help. Toward the end of the webinar, Sands said that blue button and other tools allow the patients to have full access to their record. In turn, he said that this allows him, as a doctor, to better collaborate to improve their care.