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If You Build It, They Will Engage

October 26, 2012
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Why David Chao is enthusiastic about Blue Button

David Chao, Ph.D., chief technology officer of The Advisory Board Company, could talk about the Washington, D.C.-based research, technology, and consulting firm’s recent Patient Engagement Blue Button Challenge for hours on end. In a recent conversation I had with Chao, I could sense his enthusiasm for the project through the phone. It was palpable – in a good way. I wish more people had his optimism, knowledge, and insight when it comes to patient engagement.

The challenge, in case you missed my recent interview with Chao, was an initiative where the company, along with numerous partners, paired five patient engagement vendors and their products with five host provider sites.  The vendors were tasked with creating a Blue Button product, which is a web-based feature that allows patients to easily and securely download their health information from doctors, insurers, pharmacies or other health-related service and share it with healthcare providers, and caregivers.  It was originally adopted by the Veterans Administration (VA), which recently surpassed the one million patient mark for accessing Blue Button.

 The vendors were judged on functionality, ease of use, updating and sharing patient information, and ease of integration. The winner of the challenge was Kinergy Health, Vienna, Va., for its MyKinergy cloud-hosted tool.

My talk with Chao went on for more than an hour, and there was a ton of great material that didn’t make the “final cut.” Mostly, he talked about the challenge, and how encouraged the Advisory Board people were by the results, which saw the data collected from Blue Button combined with data from the EMR, to create a full patient picture for the providers in terms of things like medication reconciliation and other vital data.

The thing that impresses me about this initiative, and others like it, is its fostering of the attitude that “if you build it, they will come.” In fact, Chao even used a slight deviation of that phrase when we spoke. As someone who is a big fan of Field of Dreams, I heartily approve.

It goes right down the line for this philosophy. If vendors build it and make it a good product, providers will use it. If providers have it and promote it, patients will use it. If patients use it, providers will benefit from the data, and the data and feedback will allow for vendors to evolve their products. It’s the circle of life – sort of.

In fact, when talking about why Kinergy won, Chao told me it wasn’t so much the functionality, although that was naturally pretty good he says, but it was how they were able to ultimately get patients on board. He said Kinergy flew to the host site, trained their physicians on why the data was useful and how it could be successful for them. The physicians, in turn, were excited about the Blue Button-inspired product, and got patients to sign up during the pilot-phase.

In my talk with Chao, in a part that wasn’t included in the final interview, he alluded to this phenomenon and shared some insights on why the Blue Button phenomenon could “catch fire.”

“What’s exciting to me is I can see a scenario where it could be quite easy to convince a large number of patients to pick this up, and in some ways, they are much more agile than the institutions that are serving them,” Chao says. “It’s quite a bit faster for them to install app on their iPhone or Android, or pull up web-based application than it is, for example, to convince a company like a healthcare system to migrate to the latest version of Windows. The time scale is significantly different for the adoption of this capability. That’s what’s exciting. It’s not just functionality, it’s this functionality is coupled with a good likelihood that it could catch fire.”

The Advisory Board isn’t the only one that is trying to “spur innovation,” in this segment, as Chao says. The government is trying to do the same, focusing on better usability and layout for Blue Button products. This is important but when that challenge is complete, in a few months, I’m interested to see if the “build and they come” philosophy was a factor in determining a winner. I have an inkling it might be.

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