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When the Blue Button Saved a Life

March 5, 2013
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One of the things I love about HIMSS is hearing people’s personal stories and how they relate to the transformative efforts that are happening across the healthcare industry. Beth Schindele, the director of the Delaware Regional Extension Center (REC), shared a nice story this week about her father and the use of the Blue Button.

Before I get into Schindele’s story, I’ll provide a little background for those of you who are still in the dark on the Blue Button initiative.  The initiative is the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s (ONC’s) attempt to make data easily accessible for patients. The idea that patient data must be easily accessible has becomeso  prominent that we featured it as one of the industry’s top tech trends in March. Blue Button has been the centerpiece of that push.

Clicking on the original Blue Button leads patients to an unreadable, text-based file. The ONC launched a challenge for app developers to create a Blue Button where the data was readable and presented in a “clean format.”

Humetrix, a San Diego-based health IT developer of mobile health applications, was one of the winners of this challenge. Its iBlueButton app allows patients to read their medical history from different care avenues, push the record to the doctor, and input personal notes. The app has been touted by Farzad Mostashari, M.D., National Coordinator for Health IT, who used it with his parents, to help better understand their care history.

He’s not the only one who likes the app. At HIMSS, I learned that Schindele had a similar experience with the blue button app. Before iBlueButton, she would go on for her father, use the Blue Button, and take the information from the text-based file and enter it into a spreadsheet. It was a “painstaking” process, and accuracy didn’t always occur within the transfer.

A week before Dr. Mostashari gave the iBluebutton his ultimate endorsement, Schindele found the app on her own and downloaded it. She was just as impressed as the ONC chief.

“I was amazed by the results,” Schindele says. “This was now a record that I could scan quickly and easily. It was sorted by hospitalizations, the medicines were there, and his preventive services were there. And it had added benefits like a place where I could document during my father’s hospitalizations, his discharge instructions, and questions he had and those answers, and link this all together.”

Schindele also had the opportunity to self-populate his family history and other information that isn’t included in the claims data. This became really important, she says, during her father’s third hospitalization.

“When he went on admission, we were reviewing medications, the hospital had an old record showing that he had a diagnosis that required him to take Coumadin, which is a blood thinner. And because I had the data in my hands, I was able to show them that may have been true two years ago…after he had a stroke. But he was no longer on that medication, and that truly was instrumental in saving his life,” Schindele says.

When she says life saving she isn’t kidding.  Despite wanting to, the hospital staff didn’t put him on the Coumadin because of the information she had at hand, Schindele told me. Five hours after discharge, her father fell and suffered lacerations in his scalp and hand. She says if he had been on Coumadin, the bleeding would have been life threatening.

“That type of data in a patient’s hand is so empowering,” Schindele says.

Whether it’s with the iBlueButton app or another similar patient engagement platform, it’s hard to argue how this information could help. I admire the work Schindele is doing now with the Delaware REC. trying to get providers to better understand this Blue Button concept and how it could help. Hopefully, others can join the education process and move this forward so more lives can be saved.



There isn't a doctor in the country who believes that having 2 year old records saved this patients life from a cut two days after discharge. although one of the newer drugs is more problematic, you don't bleed to death simply because you are on coumadin (you can give the patient vitamin K to reverse the effects)and you can even do heart surgery on patients who are on it.

Stories like this (Facebook saved my Sons life) in fact do more to hurt the goal of giving patients access to information and make them look a little bit hysterical but it makes for great media (vs news). We of course want patients and their care givers to have real time equal access to data but we also want doctors to have the same thing in order to make informed decisions and over-hyping healthIT is just as dangerous as lack of access or overhyping a drug.

Perhaps there should be a medical or crowd sourced review of the drama healthIT stories just like we should for drugs?


Thanks for your comment...First to clarify, the cut was the same day as discharge, not two days after. If it was two days after then maybe I wouldn't have written it like that, but I think getting the cut the same day as discharge is a bit different. And the point was the doctors weren't updated with the right info and having the Blue Button data made a difference.

I understand where you're coming from, but the reality is that we're all part of a broader public discourse around issues such as this. It's incumbent on all stakeholders to think and act responsibly, and to react in a calm, thoughtful way to the assertions of others. We may not always know the specific facts of specific situations, but we can draw reasonable generalizations. In this case, the conclusion is that it was a good thing for her to have that Blue Button data for her father.

Thanks again for commenting...