VA, Markle push blue buttons to download personal health data

VA has added a blue button to allow veterans to download their own records

Federal officials and private-sector partners are promoting “blue button” applications that would allow patients to securely download their personal health information from a provider’s or insurer’s record system.

On Aug. 29, the Veterans Affairs Department introduced such a capability in beta form on its My HealtheVet online application so veterans can access their health data. VA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are scheduled to officially launch blue-button programs in early October. The programs were developed in collaboration with the Defense Department and the Markle Foundation’s Consumer Engagement Workgroup.

In addition, Markle was one of 46 organizations that asked the Obama administration to include the download capabilities as a requirement for provider-operated and personal electronic health record systems.

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The White House and Congress are distributing $20 billion in health information technology incentives through the economic stimulus law. Most of that money will go to doctors and hospitals that install EHR systems for the first time.

On Aug. 31, Markle released a policy paper recommending that the blue-button download capability be a priority in the nationwide push to adopt health IT. The paper includes specific privacy and security practices for the downloads.

Supporting the Markle recommendations are technology companies and organizations that represent providers, consumers, insurers and privacy advocates.

“This capability is not common today, but we have the opportunity to make it a basic expectation, especially now that billions of public dollars will be flowing to help subsidize health information technology,” said Carol Diamond, managing director of Markle's health care initiatives, in a news release.

The foundation also announced a Blue Button Challenge to encourage computer programmers and developers to create Web-based applications to help people stay healthy.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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