Veterans and Medicare beneficiaries can now enjoy new access to their own medical information and other data. In August, President Obama announced the creation of the “Blue Button”—a web-based feature through which patients may easily download their health information and share it with health care providers, caregivers, and others they trust. Since then, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have beta-tested their respective systems—with great success. The Blue Button was formally launched today.

Veterans should log onto My HealtheVet at www.myhealth.va.gov and click the Blue Button can save or print information from their own health records. Medicare beneficiaries who are registered users of www.mymedicare.gov can log onto a secure site where they can save or print their Medicare claims and self-entered personal information with the Blue Button there. Data from of each site can be used to create portable medical histories that will facilitate dialog with Veterans’ and beneficiaries’ health care providers, caregivers, and other trusted individuals or entities.

The Blue Button option should help Veterans and Medicare beneficiaries save their information on individual computers and portable storage devices or print that information in hard copy. Having this ready access to personal health information from Medicare claims can help beneficiaries understand their medical history and work more easily and effectively with providers, as well as provide valuable assistance to their attorneys. The Blue Button feature will allow Medicare beneficiaries to view their claims and self-entered information—and be able to export that data onto their own computer. The information is downloaded as an “ASCII text file,” the easiest and simplest electronic text format. The files are easy to read by the individual, and helps organize a lot of information.

The My HealtheVet personal health record includes self-entered health data (including blood pressure, weight, and heart rate), emergency contact information, test results, family health history, military health history, and other health-related information. The ASCII text file that Veterans can download will include this information. As additional personal health information becomes available to VA patients through the My HealtheVet personal health record, this will also be added to the VA Blue Button download. In pre-launch testings, the VA’s Blue Button system has generated an overwhelmingly positive response, and many veterans have already used it to access their records.

For a long time, registered users of MyMedicare.gov have had the ability to view their Medicare claims information add their personal and health information, such as emergency contact information, names of pharmacies and providers, self-reported allergies, medical conditions, and prescription drugs. Now, with the Blue Button, CMS is making it convenient and safe for them to download and share this information in an easy-to-read and portable format. For people who are involved in personal injury or medical malpractice claims, the slow-moving administration of Medicare agencies has delayed their recoveries of settlement funds for months, and oftentimes, for more than a year!

The VA and CMS both stress the importance to users of protecting the electronic information on their personal computers with appropriate security measures. Once individuals download their data, they will need to ensure its safety—for example, by encryption or password protection.

The VA and CMS issued a challenge to software developers to develop apps to make the Blue Button even easier and more useful.  The winner of that challenge is Adobe’s Blue Button Health Assistant. This new “app” provides a comfortable and familiar user layout and eases the linkage of consumer information—including immunizations, allergies, medications, family health history, lab test results, and military service histories—among patients, providers, and caregivers using My HealtheVet, or claims data for those using the CMS Button.

Soon, Blue Button users may be able to augment the downloaded information that is housed on their computers—or that they transferred to a commercial personal health record or other health application—through automated connections to, and downloads from, major pharmacies including Walgreens and CVS; lab systems such as Quest and LabCorp; and an increasing number of inpatient and outpatient electronic medical records systems.

 

 

 

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