News Feature | July 5, 2013

Physicians Key To Blue Button Initiative Enrollment

Source: Health IT Outcomes
Greg Bengel

By Greg Bengel, contributing writer

Experts stress physicians’ attitude toward Blue Button, which has the ability aid in making more informed healthcare decision, will determine its future

There is plenty of excitement surrounding Blue Button – described by Christopher Rasmussen of the Center for Democracy and Technology in a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article as “an information exchange between the provider and patient” – and for good reason. The initiative allows patients to easily download, view, and transmit their health information on the web. Blue Button can even be used by patients "to steer health records from an old provider to a new one, for the purposes of getting a second opinion," said Rasmussen.

Blue Button began as an initiative of the federal government and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to allow veterans to access health data online. Health IT Outcomes quotes Craig Luigart, CIO for Health with the Veterans Health Administration and a Blue Button user, as saying, "The point of Blue Button was to make health data available to the patients. It has been successful in this regard — so much so that it has smashed through the noise about health IT standards, and actually has gotten patients involved in managing their own health records and their own care."

Blue Button quickly expanded to other federal employees and then to Medicare patients. The next step is for providers to bring Blue Button into the private sector, now that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have stepped in.

CMS is requiring providers to show more evidence of “meaningful use” of electronic technology. In other words, providers will have to find ways to allow patients to view, download, and transmit their own health information. This is what Blue Button is all about.   

Besides leveraging Blue Button to meet meaningful use requirements, quotes Aetna chairman and chief executive officer Mark Bertolini as saying the ability to share information between providers and patients “will lead to more informed healthcare decisions” and by extension, better quality of care. But just how soon physicians will see the benefits of Blue Button depend on their attitude towards it, according to David Chao, chief technology officer of The Advisory Board Company.

Chao feels the most effective way to enroll patients in Blue Button, at least initially, is for them to hear about it from their physicians. “Blue Button puts the patient in the position of having something the providers want, which is exactly this data,” says Chao in an interview with Healthcare Informatics. “They’d love to have this data because it improves care for patients, and secondly it helps hospitals connect the dots to prevent readmissions. We can only prevent readmissions when we start gathering data to see where we can make improvements. With the data that the patient walks through the door with Blue Button, the hospitals and clinics are going to be more sophisticated in their care.”

The Advisory Board Company supported the initiative by hosting a Patient Engagement Blue Button Challenge, in which they looked at five vendors and their products and judged them on functionality, ease of use, updating and sharing patient information, and ease of integration. Prior to the challenge, “doctors didn’t know enough about Blue Button to form an opinion.”

Chao adds, “The most interesting thing to me about what this challenge did for us is it gave us an incredibly strong indication that if these vendors build it, the providers will come and sign up. There is most likely a formula that will end up with a large number of patients signing up for and using Blue Button. The key to that is the physicians’ take on this.”