Blue Button Download: The Surface of a Deep Blue Sea

I knew today was the day that the Veterans Health Administration introduced the Blue Button on its PHR, MyHealtheVet. A rapidly developed prototype by VA and CMS, it gives authenticated PHR users the ability to download their personal health information. The idea is so simple. Just click on the blue button.

I have access to a MyHealtheVet “test patient” at the Portland VA, so I logged on as this fictional patient, and voila, there it was.

It was easy to do, and what I saw was a file that included some self-entered data and some electronic record data – medications, clinical reminders, the test patient contact information. I saved it to my desktop.

The Markle Foundation has been spearheading greater functionality allowing consumers access to their own health record information. Here’s a link to their new Policies in Practice paper, The Download Capability. There’s an excellent discussion about making sure users are notified about risks of downloading their data, yet balancing promoting and educating about this function while not scaring people away. In going through the motions as a test patient, I think we need to put our collective minds together on this one. I’ve posted before that people who don’t use patient portals and PHRs may tell us more about what we’re trying to do than those who do use these tools.

One interesting thing I found today. I was looking for stories about the new download capacity, so I searched “Blue Button”. Did you know Blue Buttons are actually jellyfish (sort of)? Amazingly beautiful creatures. Apparently they live on the surface of the deep blue sea. This is a lovely metaphor. The PHR Blue Button might be the perfect beginning to what lay ahead – or below, in this case – a lot more personal health information at patients’ fingertips.