In 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented a groundbreaking healthcare technology tool specifically designed to let clients easily view and download their personal health information. This came in the form of a secure web portal called “Blue Button,” in reference to the blue-colored oval that users clicked to see their complete medical histories.
After a successful roll-out of the Blue Button by the VA, the initiative was eventually adopted by the Department of Defense as well as the Department of Health and Human Services. Since that time, the Blue Button has provided millions of veterans, active-duty military personnel, and Medicare beneficiaries with on-demand access to their personal health information. The commercial healthcare industry is following suit and jumping on the Blue Button bandwagon, though not altogether of its own volition. Enabling patients to view, download, and transmit their health information electronically is one of the criterion hospitals and providers must meet in order to achieve Meaningful Use Stage 2 attestation.
Healthcare organizations that make data available to patients electronically via the Blue Button place the logo prominently on their websites, which indicates users can securely view and download medical information online. A few clicks give patients access to their diagnoses, prescription medications, laboratory results, and much more. Because the IT departments of healthcare organizations are already responsible for collecting, analyzing, storing, and transmitting massive amounts of big data, it is critical to ensure the integration of Blue Button functionality will support the electronic transfer so that vital patient information isn’t lost in the data shuffle.
Yet, some hospitals don’t have the capacity to handle huge volumes of healthcare data holistically. Standard HIT operating procedure has been to utilize disparate systems to manage different datasets. However, this approach results in data silos that make it extremely difficult to share patient information seamlessly across internal and external systems. The deployment of electronic health record (EHR) systems has become the new normal for patient data management and the foundation for centralizing healthcare data. But for hospitals that have successfully deployed EHRs, interoperability with existing and new technology such as the Blue Button has emerged as a key issue for technology officers.
The problem? Many EHR systems simply don’t have built-in interoperability, which means they can’t communicate with external systems, making the efficient exchange of patient health data difficult or impossible. Without achieving HIT interoperability, hospitals won’t be able to give their patients the ability to view their medical records in a legible and machine-readable format, a key Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirement.
EHR vendors are working to develop new solutions and upgrade current ones that natively support interoperability, while third-party organizations known as health information exchanges (HIEs) have emerged to facilitate electronic access and exchange of vital medical information between hospitals, third-party caregivers, and patients. At the end of the day, an interoperable environment should improve the delivery of healthcare by ensuring the right data is available at the right time to the right people.
Forward-thinking healthcare organizations will evaluate current workflows and technology to determine how to best deploy solutions such as the Blue Button—which will help ensure patient data remains accessible, secure, and available when and where it’s needed.