The iBlueButton experience – Part I

During the course of the past few weeks, there has been some commotion and excitement in the healthcare community over the successful introduction of the mobile Blue Button. Many individuals within the industry are familiar with the concept of the Blue Button, however, since half of the clinician populace across the nation has not opted for EHRs, a large percentage of physicians are still oblivious to this common health IT terminology. Essentially, Blue Button is a tool which allows users of electronic medical records to obtain their personal health information via downloading it in various formats on their computers. It was initially designed as a platform to allow American Veterans easy access to their personal health information.

Blue Button has already been used extensively by hospitals throughout the country. Numerous federal agencies such as HHS (Health and Human Services), DOD (Department of Defense) and VA (Veterans Affairs) have applied Blue Button to facilitate their beneficiaries. The most basic format in which Blue Button allows the user to download their personal health information is a text file. By default the file downloaded from this technology is ASCII which is machine readable, meaning that the file may be downloaded in a variety of formats as required, such as text, PDF etc. As mentioned earlier, a Blue Button ASCII file is machine readable, which essentially means it can be parsed (broken down and analyzed) with a straightforward program on any basic computer. The downloaded text file may be accessed on any mobile device or computer without the need for any specific program. These files provide an effortless medium for transmitting health information amongst an assortment of members within the healthcare continuum.

Now, there is a new development in the world of health IT with regards to Blue Button, which is the iBlueButton mobile application. Humetrix is the health IT vendor which is responsible for shaking up the entire industry by introducing this revolutionary technology. Humetrix, a California based organization, revealed its iBlueButton 3.6 physician and consumer apps last October and won the national Blue Button ‘Mash Up’ Challenge. According to Todd Stein, the official spokesperson for Humetrix, thus far no one has been successful in making an application which makes a patient’s complete medical record accessible on their mobile device directly from their provider being solely under the patient’s control. As a result of this remarkable modernization, millions of military veterans and 37 million Medicare patients may now download their Blue Button medical record via their iPad or iPhone.

During a summit convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) Dr. Farzad Mostashari was full of praise for the iBlueButton and its implication within the healthcare community. To quote, Dr Mostashari while sharing a personal story exclaimed that the iBlueButton “opened my eyes”. During a medical emergency pertaining to his father, Dr. Mostashari downloaded his father’s full medical record using the iBlueButton application. Upon obtaining the record, Dr. Mostashari shared it electronically with his father’s doctor who was astonished to see it, as this was unprecedented for him. Pleased with the resourcefulness of this app, Dr. Mostashari comments, “This is patient engagement at its best. This is the future of healthcare. I’m a doctor myself and when I first saw this, it was a real eye opener. I had first tried to download my father’s file from CMS’s Blue Button but it was everything I kind of feared – long, not pretty, it’s got all these codes that you don’t understand, the name of the provider is a number.”

Read more: Are EHRs more reliable than conventional paper-based systems?

 

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