Many U.S. medical patients don’t recognize their own rights when it comes to viewing and sharing personal medical records. For most folks, their personal medical records are just those charts, X-rays and clipboard notes that doctors and nurses carry around – that, as Americans, patients have the legal right to look over these notes doesn’t even occur to many people!
With the advent of electronic health records, however, the traditional perspective on medical records is changing. Patients have much easier access to their health records, which are often just a click away. But knowing where and how to click can be challenge. The Blue Button Initiative is aiming to change that.
Changing how America views healthcare
Today, patient health information stored in EHR software is more secure than ever, without making it any less accessible. Thanks to health information exchange, patient information is transferred and shared between doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies, health insurance companies and, most importantly, patients themselves.
Blue Button facilitates sharing of health records with doctors, caregivers and trusted family members. It allows patients to double-check key information like medication lists and lab results, as well as track vaccinations. Blue Button makes medical history readily available in the event of an emergency, when seeking second opinions on health conditions, switching health insurance companies or traveling abroad. On a more day-to-day applicable level, patients can even use Blue Button to plug health information into tablet and smartphone apps or tools, which can help you set and reach personalized health goals.
The bottom line is that Blue Button gives patients more than access. It offers them a seat at the table when it comes to discussing their own health.
For providers, Blue Button is also a major new medical practice management tool – and one that couldn’t be arriving at a better time. Doctors who are trying to meet Stage 2 of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Meaningful Use incentive programs are facing a significant challenge. One of the requirements for Stage 2 is a drastic rise in patient engagement, which is largely measured based on how many patients are downloading, sharing and viewing their own files. Physicians aiming for incentive payments need their patients to be more engaged for two reasons: It helps them prove Meaningful Use and improve their practice with incentive funding, and it gets patients more involved with their own healthcare, which in turn leads to better health outcomes.
Where does Blue Button come from?
Blue Button actually originated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It was a basic symbol on the VA’s patient portal that allowed beneficiaries to securely download digital copies of their health records with a single click. The goal was simplicity and security.
In 2012, the idea was successful enough that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), stepped in. ONC has since been responsible for broadening the use of the Blue Button while also improving the initiative from a technical standpoint.
How to start using Blue Button
Today, veterans, members of the military and Medicare beneficiaries all have access to Blue Button. Some federal agencies and a number of private sector companies are also offering Blue Button to beneficiaries and members. Meanwhile, the number of insurers, healthcare providers and stakeholders signing on with the initiative continues to grow.
Blue Button isn’t yet available to everyone, but those patients who can use it don’t need anything other than a computer and an Internet connection. No special software is required, nor do patients need any particular technology. There’s no cost to using Blue Button.
To find out more, doctors and patients can both check out HealthIT.gov’s Frequently Asked Questions page for the Blue Button movement.