Five years ago at the Disabled Veterans of America Conference in Atlanta, President Obama announced that for the first time, Veterans would be able to click a simple “Blue Button” on the Veterans Administration (VA) website that would allow them to download their individual health records. This simple but powerful tool allowed Veterans to locate their health information and share it with their care team outside the VA system. Thanks to similar efforts at the Department of Defense (DOD) and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), today almost 3 million Veterans, active-duty military personnel, and Medicare beneficiaries have now accessed their health information online.
Today at the fifth annual Consumer eHealth Summit, we in the Federal government are celebrating progress in opening up health data, while recommitting ourselves to creating easy, efficient, and user-friendly processes for individuals to access their health information online.
The Federal government has come a long way in open health data since the launch of Blue Button. In 2012, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was charged with scaling the Blue Button Initiative for more Americans. Since then, the Federal government has joined with over 600 Blue Button Pledge members, who have voluntarily committed to providing more Americans with secure, electronic access to their health data. We hope that in the next five years, we will double the amount of Americans having electronic access to their health information from the current estimate of 150 million. HHS created the Blue Button Connector website to help individuals find their health data, and launched a national campaign to educate individuals about how to use their health data to make better decisions with their care team.
And in January 2015, the President launched the Precision Medicine Initiative – a bold new research effort to revolutionize how we improve health for individuals and treat diseases. Central to this effort is ensuring that patients can easily access their health data and share it with researchers to enable targeted treatment and better outcomes. The Blue Button Initiative, and the principle of providing all individuals ready access to their medical records, is an important part of this effort.
But there’s still much to be done to encourage widespread interoperability of health information across systems, creation of more user-friendly experiences for clinicians and patients, and widespread implementation of APIs to ensure that individuals can collect their data from multiple sources in the app of their choice. It’s critical that we get this right. Empowering people with access to their health information drives them to be more engaged and involved in their own care and prevent medical problems before they start. It means a grandfather knows what his care instructions are after an ER visit, so that he can avoid a re-hospitalization. It means a Veteran can share her records with other providers outside the VA system when she travels. It means a cancer patient can find a clinical trial to try a potentially life-saving experimental treatment.
To mark the fifth anniversary of Blue Button, and in recognition of the importance of making it easier for individuals to get the health information they need for effective care, public- and private-sector data holders can help individuals get better access to their health data by listing their organizations on the Blue Button Connector. And we encourage everyone to learn more about open health data by visiting HealthIT.gov.
DJ Patil is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy and Chief Data Scientist at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Maya Uppaluru is Policy Advisor for Health Data at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.