ONC Launches New Blue Button Toolkit

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has launched a new toolkit for organizations that want to use Blue Button technology to help consumers get access to their digital health information.

The Blue Button Toolkit includes technical guidelines for organizations such as labs, pharmacies, immunization registries, and health information exchanges, as well as a portfolio of national standards that “further the goal to empower all Americans with electronic access to their own health data.” In particular, ONC added alternative technical approaches to the toolkit that support consumer exchange of information and Direct protocols for the secure exchange of information.

In addition, ONC now recommends and encourages the use of application programming interfaces, secure attachments, and web services to achieve information exchange with patients. Over the next few years, ONC expects that the toolkit will continue to evolve as new standards emerge such as RESTful approaches and Fast Health Interoperable Resources. FHIR, from standards development organization Health Level Seven, is gaining momentum as an open healthcare data standard.

“The Blue Button Toolkit includes the recommended technical standards for sharing data with patients in a structured way, and marketing materials to help organizations communicate the value of online access to health records,” states a Sept. 15 ONC blog. “Organizations can follow these guidelines and use these materials to show their support for the Blue Button Initiative.”

A public-private collaboration, the Blue Button Initiative includes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, as well as multiple private sector organizations. The goal of Blue Button is to “engage and empower consumers and patients through electronic access to their own health information in a format they can use to better manage and improve their health and healthcare.”

However, according to ONC, less than one-third of consumers accessed their health records online as of last year. The findings were based on a nationally representative survey of more than 2,100 respondents. About one-third of individuals in the survey also reported a gap in health information among their providers or between themselves and their providers.

To help address this problem, ONC is launching a national campaign to boost consumer use of Blue Button technology to securely access their health records electronically. The national Blue Button campaign, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 6, will include public service announcements posted on partner websites to get the word out on how consumers can access their own health data.

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