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.