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A 'Blue Button' for Health Data

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, September 2, 2010

To promote cost-effective, quality care, healthcare movers and shakers are pointing to health information technology to help lead the way. Patients and their families will need to be included in this process as well—to help them get the information they need to make informed decisions about their health. So to make it easier, how about clicking a blue button on their computer screens—just when they need their data?

The idea for the blue button—basically, an easy-to-remember icon to download information—isn't as far-fetched as it sounds, according to Markle Foundation, a Washington, DC-based public-private collaborative, which just released a policy paper this week on the subject. In fact, the idea of a blue button was given some credence in a speech to military veterans last month by President Obama.

In his talk, the President said that for the first time ever, veterans will be able to go to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, "click a simple blue button, and download or print your personal health records so you have them when you need them, and can share them with your doctors outside of the VA." 

And, similar plans are in the works for www.MyMedicare.gov to offer it to Medicare beneficiaries, Markle noted. So why can't medical practices, hospitals, insurers, pharmacies, and laboratory services consider blue buttons as well for their websites as well?

According to Markle, the move toward the blue button idea is part of the evolution toward making patients' personal health records (PHR) easily part of their care. In one of its surveys, Markle found that at least 86% of those questioned said that they thought obtaining their PHRs could help them avoid duplicated tests, keep physicians informed, move more easily from physician to physician, review the accuracy of their medical records, and track personal health expenses.

Last year, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act "set the expectation" that individuals will be able to get electronic copies of pertinent health information about themselves, the foundation noted. And, when compared to more sophisticated health IT functions, a blue button appeared to be a "relatively low-cost and low-burden means" for health care providers to comply with the law, it added.

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