VA’s Blue Button: Empowering People with Their Data

The Blue Button idea crystallized during an exciting discussion at the Markle Consumer Engagement Workgroup meeting in New York City in January 2010. It was an idea whose time had come. One of the unique strengths of this group was the diversity of experiences and perspectives gathered around the table. A passionate discussion about how to engage consumers in more meaningful ways filled the room with energy. Many ideas and viewpoints were exchanged, but a single thread of conversation grew until it became a chorus of voices centered upon a single notion: give patients direct access to their data. Place a big button on existing portals where that data exists. Add a big “Blue Button” and empower consumers to have easy access to their data, and to share that information as they choose, with those whom they trust.

At the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) we worked hard through the ensuing spring months to create the VA Blue Button for the My HealtheVet Personal Health Record portal. With unprecedented speed we designed the first VA Blue Button, focusing on the data already available to My HealtheVet users as a starting point. We believed that the Blue Button would add value for Veterans and empower them by providing easy access to their personal health information.

In May, my family experienced a personal crisis when a family member was involved in a nearly fatal automobile accident. All of the challenges that I thought about in our work quickly became daily struggles as we spent hours, days, and then weeks at the hospital bedside. Our inability to provide the health care team with important health history details was frustrating, dangerous and a significant problem for many days. As multiple specialties were brought into the care plan, the need for care coordination became even greater. At the most basic level, we needed to access and share important data and information. I wished for a Blue Button a hundred times or more.

I thought about the Blue Button when I asked the nurse at this community hospital if I could please have a copy of the medication list, but none could be produced. I thought about the Blue Button when I telephoned the hospital from home one evening and was told that I could not request personal information over the phone. I thought about the Blue Button when each new hospital service, specialist, and later physician’s office asked me to provide the same information over and over again; one metal clipboard after another.

Thankfully, the end of the summer brought dramatic improvements as the health of our family member continued to improve. And on August 29th, VA released the first version of the VA Blue Button, enabling Veterans to have easy access to their personal health information available in My HealtheVet. My experience this summer has strengthened my belief that the simple notion of a big Blue Button has the power to transform a life. In VA, we are working hard to add even more data and features to the next version of the VA Blue Button on My HealtheVet. Indeed the time has come for the Veterans we are proud to serve.

Kim Nazi is an analyst for the Department of Veterans Affairs, working in the Veterans and Consumers Health Informatics Office of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Kim is a Board-Certified Healthcare Executive and a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives. She holds a Masters degree in Strategic Communication from Seton Hall University, New Jersey and is currently a PhD candidate in the Joint Sociology/Communication doctoral program at the University of Albany.

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11 Comments to “VA’s Blue Button: Empowering People with Their Data”

  1. Kirk Sides says:

    I have done the required video viewing. I have filled out the required form. I have done these two items twice, and delivered the form to my local V.A. Regional Center. I still do not have access to MyBlueButton. What else must I do to get the access?

  2. Mike Bailey says:

    I am sorry I can not get excited over being able to download information that I have personally entered into the VA website from my own information that I have gathered. I would much rather be able to access the VA’s doctor notes written about me by the doctors that treat me, I want access to lab reports the VA has done on me, I would like to be able to e mail my medical care providers through the VA portal.

    I have enjoyed being able to refill my prescriptions online through a few mouse clicks rather than enter each prescription through the touch tone phone process, it does save time and is much easier to deal with, I have been a big fan of this since it started.

    We have been told for years that these things will “soon” be available, yet here we are nearly 5 years after the E portal was created and we seem to be no closer to these applications. To me the big blue button is just above being a joke.

    Where are the big break throughs we have been promised for years?

    • Mike,

      I understand your hesitation. Did you see this post I did about iterative nature of Blue Button? http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/?p=666

      • Mike Bailey says:

        Lauren, I will be the first person to tell you how grateful I am for your response. Since Secretary Principi left my ability to have any questions answered by a VA employee has been almost impossible to get, other than the automatic letters from the computers. |Sec Principi used to have an e mail address and has been known to answer his own e mail rather than have an adminstrative aide do it, once on a snow day he replied within 45 minutes of an e mail I sent to him, I was amazed. I know the computers can make the future much better for all of us, and I do realize “Rome wasn’t built in a day” since I am one of those veterans that use the VA for all my health care, being able to print out my data is not much use to me, although I can see where it would be beneficial to veterans who are only 10% or 20% or even veterans rated higher that do not get all their healthcare at the VAMC. I have been online when computers had 16 mb of ram and it was only modem to modem contact, so maybe I assume things should have caught up faster at the VA and integrated into the 21st century sooner. But I am grateful for all that is done to get us all there, and the VA is a better place with employees like you, responding to veterans like me. Thank you.

    • Steve Durrah says:

      Mike,
      I agree with your statement 100%. Why do I want to have access to information that I have to put in? I want access to my lab work, xrays, and my healthcare providers notes. I want to be able to communicate with my healthcare provider…..next visit I may ask for their email address to use to communicate???
      The VA does a tremendous job taking care of us vets, but could be so much more.
      On a different note, I received a letter recently from the VA saying they were ready to make a decision on my service connected disability claim and wanted to know if I had any other information to add. So I called and asked what info they had. They had all the info that I personally followed through on and was able to get from my doctors and hospitals, but claimed none of my military records were available. I asked that they delay my decision while I attempted to track down my records. After alot of internet searching, forms faxed to St. Louis and several calls back and forth with the records guy….bless his soul, they were able to come up with about 600 pages of info on my 20+ years of service. I went through and provided the relavent info to the VA. Now I am just praying for positive results as I have not worked due to my health for going on 9 months now and have been advised not to return to work by my doctors.
      Good luck, God Bless and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  3. Stephen E. Katz says:

    I am a patient @ VAMC, Long Beach, CA. I registered with a log in & password.
    I saw the Bo Derek video, I submitted my in person authentication on 12/6/10.
    However, when I log on to the Blue Button site, all I get is my name, address, phone#, but NO medical information, no prescription data, absolute-
    ly nothing of value.
    What I find particularly annoying is that NOWHERE on the VA or VAMC Long Beach web site is there any reference on how to get help: no phone number, no name, absolutely nothing. I’m not a computer whiz by any means & need someone to talk me through the process.
    As of now, BLUE BUTTON is of absolutely no value. PLEASE HELP!

    • Ron Nesler says:

      Keep after it Stephen, it is worth the effort. Some ungrateful vets point out that Blue Button will only let you look at information that you yourself sent to the VA in the first place. And, will not give you access to any information from doctors and other sources that is really what you need. I call that nit picking, I am going to send the VA a lot of my information that I have here at home so that I can ask them to look at it sometime. Much better than keeping it here at home in a drawer, and it provides jobs for government bureaucrats.

  4. The blue button should also apply to the VBA so veterans can get their claim folder online, this would save time and money. Why is the VBA process so outdated? It make sense to automate the process, where the veteran can also get their Service Medical Record (SMR) online. This would reduced the time for C&P exams by having instant access to the records. There are previous medical conditions in the SMR that is not always in the VA medical record that could save a veteran life in an emergency.

  5. Wiliam Gebhart says:

    Where is the Blue button
    How do you use My healthy Vet
    what is the above box ?????????????? Mail (Will Not Be Published
    And Box
    ?????????????? Wewbsite

  6. GLS says:

    I signed up for Blue Button in 2010 on my home PC.
    My home PC crashed and now I am ubale to use it at work are on an old PC I have at home. My sign on is the same ai just doesn’t allow me the Blue Button access?