Shedding Some Light on VA’s Blue Button


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This week, I’m thankful for my family, Veterans, reduced fat Oreos, my health, the History Channel and Blue Button.

That’s right, Blue Button.

The reason we blog is to bring you the real down low on projects you might have heard about but don’t necessarily get.  Blue Button is one of those projects.  I’ve heard a lot of feedback about the Blue Button, some good, some not so good, and I wanted, in the spirit of the holidays, to shed some light on what it does for you and maybe clear its good name.

We all go to the doctor’s office.  When we go, we have to fill out the clipboard with our information.  Name, birthday, insurance information—you know the drill.  Turns out there is a fancy name for this self-reported health information: It’s called your personal health record or PHR.  So, anything that you report about your health can be part of your PHR.

Three months ago, we were thinking about ways to give Vets better access to their information and we realized that we have a bank of info that Vets have reported themselves, hundred of PHRs on MyHealtheVet.  So we said to ourselves, selves, what if Veterans could, in just a few clicks download their, PHR?  What if that download was easy for everyone, doctors, nurses, even other computers, to read?  What if Veterans could save that info anywhere, like their smart phone, their desktop, or a USB drive?  And the answer was well, if they could do all those things, Vets would be able to manage their health care on their terms, to visit providers outside of the VA network and share their VA PHR with other doctors, and maybe quit filling out a hundred clip boards.

And the Blue Button was born.

So here’s the skinny—if you enter personal health information on MyHealtheVet (emergency contact info, medications, allergies, family medical history, test results, military health history) you can log on, and literally click the Blue Button and download your PHR in a format that is easy to read and understand.

What’s the big deal about downloading information from us that you’ve already given?  The big deal is that the file you’re getting is easy to read.  So you can take it to your podiatrist, who isn’t a VA doc, and he and his staff can read it, no  problem.  Or you download your PHR once a month and keep it on a USB drive attached to your keys and, God forbid, you have a medical emergency, then you don’t have to worry about filling out the clip board in the ER—they can download your PHR from your USB.  Or you can think of an even better way to use it because that’s the point—we created the Blue Button to empower you to have more control of your information to improve your health.

Here’s what the Blue Button is not.  Blue Button does not download your electronic health record (EHR) or compensation and pension claims information.  Would it be better if we gave you access to all that information right away?  Sure, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.  We’re releasing Blue Button several times and each time it will have more information, some you provide to us and some that we provide to you, that you can download and use however you would like.  We realize it might have been confusing, not knowing the difference between personal health information and electronic health information but that’s why I’m here with Brandon and Alex—to help you understand and allow you to have a conversation with you about your benefits and your health.

You might not be giving thanks for Blue Button, and that’s OK .  We wish you nothing but a safe and happy holiday season.

Author

Lauren Bailey

Comments

  1. Noah    

    I use the Albuquerque,NM,VAMC and cannot say enough about the excellence and professionalism of the numerous staff from whom I have received treatment and other services for many years.

    Having said that, With regard to the Blue Button: Why should I have to do the research and data entry of a medical records clerk? Surely, with the technology available to the VA, it shouldn’t be a major task to make it possible to download one’s data —meds, test results, etc.— rather than require the Vet, who may not be sufficiently computer literate, to do that manually.

  2. Chris    

    For those of you having CAPTCHA problems (message deleted if you mis-code) I sympathize. I’ve had this happen with other sites. While they fix the problem, here’s a quick work-around (I’ve just made this a habit with every CAPTCHA type site I use):
    Before you type in the CAPTCHA code,
    1. Highlight the message (Cursor at the beginning, left click and drag to the end–I add this because some folks may not know how.)
    2. Copy it to the clipboard (Hold down the CTRL key and press C or click “Edit” then “Copy” at the top left of the screen.)
    3. Enter the CAPTCHA Code. If it messes up and you lose the message:
    4. Click in the Comment block
    5. Hold down the CTRL key and press V or click “Edit” then “Paste”.
    6. Your message should be restored.

    Note: I deliberately messed up my CAPTCHA code for this message. I got a message “You entered your CAPTCHA wrong. Press your browser Back button and try again.”

    I did, and the message was still there–even the same CAPTCHA Code. Maybe it’s fixed!

  3. Claudio Alpaca    

    I am not a veterans, but a civilian with more health problems, whose causes may be common with that reported such as PSTD, TBI and others.
    It is good for veterans may have the possibility to conctat on web a doctors, receive notices on data for pathologies that they have contracted on war’s theatre, that is not easily to superate even if they have resilience and determination, as psycology is part of physiology and they interferes each others. It is an human component that may not be cured whithout empathy of doctors and support of loves one.
    i invite veterans to affront its problems rationally, on terms that is possible, conctat doctor on web and theyr doctors, for planning cures.
    please, do not stop even on difficult moments.
    Have good holydays and serenity.
    Sincerily Claudio Alpaca

    Pieve di Teco, 4.12.2010

  4. Jon    

    I use the personal health information myself but I have found that I can only update the basic information, such as flu shots and occasionally updating my weight and so forth. I find it difficut to enter information about what was discussed in the doctors office because I don’t remember half of what what discussed. I just about need someone taking shorthand to retain all that is discussed. That is good in a sense because my providers are very good at what they do. Now to remember is another story. It would be nice if when the provider is typing all that info that it would also be filled in on my personal health record and retained so we can print it when we hit the blue button. Being diabetic I am given a lot of information everytime I see ny provider or diabetic educator. The providers should be able to print the latest details for us take home and scan or transcribe. That would also be very helpful.

  5. Nick Puckett    

    I have tried to use BLUE BUTTON to determine the status of my appeal. I was denied access. Is this due to the fact that my only access is through a public access point like the library and this conflicts with the confidentiality requirements of the HIPPA Laws ?

  6. Just Wondering    

    Well I personally would love the chance of utilizing the “Blue Button” but first how about fixing the MyHealtheVet problem that is not allowing many veterans even to initially log on to the system for even the first time? I go to the North Chicago VAMC and have personally been there twice over the past year just trying to gain initial access, this after numerous attempts to resolve the issue via the MyHealtheVet “Help Desk” on line. Speaking of which these personnel could use either initial training or new training on customer service, that being that when myself and others e-mail our problem(s) then after weeks have passed despite advertising that a help desk member would contact me in a reasonable amount of time, not weeks and months later. I receive e-mailed reply that asks that I give my full name, Date of Birth and Full Social Security Number to assist me, which I did over and over again. After each time I received a standard how to log on to the system as well as how to retrieve my log in id and or password id if I have forgotten either one of them, while I have explained over and over again that when I have tried to enroll in MyHealtheVet I receive an error message that says:
    Recheck Information MHV was unable to process this form
    A user profile already exists for the specified person.
    Please correct and resubmit.
    Then when I try and retrieve my login id I receive the following error message:
    Recheck Information MHV was unable to process this form
    A user could not be found with the specified profile.
    Please correct and resubmit.
    See the conflict? It says that there is another person already enrolled with my information, yet when I try and retrieve my login id it says a person could not be found with my information! In one statement I am already in the system and yet in another it says that I am not! After over a year of being given the run around online as well as by leaving countless messages at the VAMC as well as going personally twice to the North Chicago VAMC and working with one woman who was responsible for helping veterans get enrolled online as well as authenticating veterans. This woman was dumbfounded, said that she would call me at home once the issue was corrected, gathered all my personal information and of course never called back. Finally after leaving several messages at the VAMC North Chicago, another woman who is in charge of running and authenticating veterans at the VAMC North Chicago finally called my home and spoke with myself and my wife, as she tried to gain access to my account online. The conclusion was that despite logging into the MyHealtheVet system and providing all required information when I try and log in the system will not allow me to. Once this woman had me go through all these steps over and over again as well as she herself tried gaining access to MyHealtheVet as me, could not be done. To this woman’s credit she did come clean and say that her day is totally filled with veterans like myself and upon investigating she stated that once she has called and e-mailed the personnel that she reports to about these problems she was informed that “There is a Glitch in the System” and that for so many veterans that they will not be able to access MyHealtheVet until the software is corrected. This woman further confided that she has been handling many, many veterans that have and are experiencing the same problem, not only in the Chicago area but throughout the country. Her advice is to wait another year and try enrolling again. Why is not this information passed along in your article? How about some honesty here and state that for those of you veterans that the “Glitch” does not affect you can have access to the “Blue Button”, but for the countless veterans that the system will not allow you to access that you should try back again in a year.

    1. brenda hayes    

      What great Feedback; they should hire you as the IT person or as a consultant!! On behalf of the Vets who have no IT Clue!! ATTA BOY!!

      Vetwife Advocate

      Also, thell them how to fix the screen that give you a Captcha error and loses all of your message (wondering if that was not meant to be) You guys have your worked cut out for you; too many of us have been exposed to the adversarial VA; not the helpful VA!!

      Lauren, what is realtionship managment; does it help with disabled VNVets?
      Thanks again.

      1. Lauren Bailey    

        Brenda, our Veterans Relationship Management (or VRM) initiative will improve the way that we interact with all Veterans. The programs include improved web self service, modernization of phone access and a host of other Veteran facing improvements. VRM is a huge project and I’ll be highlighting some really exciting projects soon.
        In the meantime if you ever have any difficulty with the blog please email us and let us know.

        1. brenda hayes    

          Happened again; but I did backspace; but, my message was delelted.

          I know the message does not have to be deleted if you get the CAPTCHA code wrong–difficult to see with the line running through it at times.

          I am sure your IT Dpt could “fix” it! Ask the Craig’s List guy. His IT has it correct. If you don’t get the code correct the first time; it gives you another code to put in!!

          Thanks,
          BH

  7. Bruce Burgess    

    Lauren, well thanks for the post and Happy Holidays to you as well. I must state that even in your desire to clear up issues related to Veterans misunderstanding the blue button, you leave me with a nagging question, so nagging that it prohibits sleep. What did you mean by “You might not be giving thanks for Blue Button, and that’s OK.”?

    Please do not take my tone as antagonistic, but that almost sounds like “Its here and you will like it Soldier!” Or to paraphrase how things appear, to my half military and half civilian mindset; “We spent a bunch of money and/or time on this and darnit you will like it!”

    For now, since we all know I have no choice or say in the matter, I will patiently wait for the blue button to become useful and hopefully someday it will, along with myhealthevet. Perhaps someday it will be capable of being formatted entirely by an advanced VA Information Technology system that will allow me access to my health record, notes and physician orders, instead of requiring that I become an amateur medical assistant and input all my own data.

    Until then, what is going on with VKO ( http://vko4life.org/ ) and are there any developments on the horizon that will actually deliver us something that is useful? What is going on with the programs that you know us Veterans want; especially the tech savvy generation that is coming out of OIF/OEF? Now that would be a blog post I would love to read. “VA CTO announces the debut of VKO Veterans Knowledge Online.” In your best Peter Griffin voice say “Sweeet!”

    1. Alex Horton    

      Bruce, Lauren is on travel so I’m happy to address your first concern.

      Five seconds after meeting Lauren, you realize she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. That isn’t what she was implying at all. She was giving an acknowledgment to everyone who doesn’t find Blue Button to be an instant revolution in digital management of their health. It’s only the start and it has much room to grow, but it’s here. I think of it as a car with an engine that can run, but the inside doesn’t have the new car smell, the radio needs to be installed and the interior isn’t done yet. Both Lauren and the head tech guy at VA aren’t telling you to like it or else, just that they’re working on making it better.

      Part of the reason Brandon and I were brought on board was to bring a Veteran’s skeptic eye to things like Blue Button. When it was explained to us for the first time, our first question was, “Can we see our medical records online?” The answer was no, but at some point, yes. It’s not terribly useful to me (and to most Vets) until we can see our records, check and confirm appointment schedules, leave notes for doctors, check in for updates and so forth. Forgive me for using the car analogy again, but that future iteration of Blue Button is a Ferrari. We’re getting there, but we have to ride in a Honda first until we get the technology in place.

      As for VKO, I can’t speak on it but we’ll try to locate someone who can.

      1. Lauren Bailey    

        Bruce, I’m sincerely sorry if my tone came across wrong. Thankfully Alex is in tune with my voice and hit the nail on the head (even fit with analogies which I love!) — I hope that he cleared up any misunderstanding.
        As for VKO, eBenefits is VA’s version of the DoD’s online knowledge management tool. Are you currently using eBenefits?

  8. Tim Sorrell    

    My Blue Button gave me my prescription list for the past 15 years. But it was not organized in any order. Making it pretty useless. My first listing is from 1998, second listing a medication from 2002. Next was a listing from 2010. What good is this information when providing it to a doctor and he gains no practically information from reading it?

  9. Gia Cruz    

    Thank you for the Blue Button is really a great idea in development and once more developed it will make a huge difference in the future not only for veterans but for civilians as well.

  10. Robert Kilkelly    

    Download that Blue Button to your computer. You can trust your VA. There wouldn’t be any malicious malware in there. Why would they install a keylogger script?

  11. Martin Caraway    

    Well, I may not be thankful for Blue Button as of yet. However, I am thankful for the veterans, family, and the VA to include VHA, and VBA. I look forward to this database expanding its horizons and could be extremely beneficial for tens of thousands of veterans who seek health care at other facilities other than the VAMC’s and CBOC’s. Hopefully this could be used both ways so that a veterans who receives their medications through the VA, can upload the RX from a private clinic and get that med sent to them from their VAMC pharmacy.

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