Blue Button Access to EHR Data

Posted on September 20, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.


What great news that we got this month about the Blue Button having 1 million users. That’s a big number for what really amounts to a rather simple idea. The idea being that when you click on a simple blue button you can download your patient record.

The article in the tweet above points out how the technology of the Blue Button is simple, but it’s had a much larger impact than the technology would suggest. Here’s portions of what Peter Levin, VA’s chief technology officer, said about the Blue Button:

“There was no nuclear physics here. It’s not that hard to strip out all of the things on the back end that make a bold font and a blue background and put raw health data out.” he said. “Once we got the directive from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs himself, from a technical perspective it was really simple to implement.”

Levin said the more important hurdle Blue Button wound up overcoming was ingrained cultural notion that one’s own medical information should only be available to medical professionals.

“It was a big step in terms of attitude,” he said. “Providers now understand that it’s OK to make that data available, and patients now understand it’s OK to get that data. Both parties now understand in that conversation that they should be talking.”

Within VA, Levin said, providers have mostly embraced the idea. But holdouts do exist.

“You’re going to find some providers in our enormous national system that haven’t gotten the memo yet,” he said. “They’re going to say, ‘Why would you want that data? All a patient’s going to do is go to the Internet and start asking questions that make them more anxious and use more of my time.’ Those folks exist. But they’re in the minority.”

The article also suggests that between the VA, DoD, CMS and private insurers, 100 million American have access to their Blue Button patient records.

I really like this video that I found on the Markle website about the Blue Button. Putting some names, faces and stories with something always makes it more real to me. You’ll have to visit their website to see the video since they’ve disabled embedding of the video (which is a shame).

The Blue Button has been a good initiative to help liberate healthcare data. I’m sure we’ll see more of it in the future. Although, we could still use some better tools to do something with the data we download.