The Little Blue Button

Don’t panic! The Blue Button is to be used when you want to save information about your healthcare to a place that you control. You get to decide to whom you want to give that information and when. Sounds pretty cool, but is it too good to be true?

After all, isn’t that what all the alphabet soup systems (HER, PHR) are supposed to be doing? But the problem, they say, is privacy and security. Markle Connecting for Health recommends that the Blue Button be implemented in the private sector as a convenient way for patients to obtain copies of their medical information. Downloads need to be implemented with attention to privacy and security. Services that offer the download capability to individuals and services that make use of the downloaded information should follow the policies and practices in the Markle Common Framework.

The Blue Button was designed by the Veterans Administration (VA) as an easy way for veterans to download or print their personal health records so they could take it with them whenever they sought care from doctors outside the VA. After appropriate identification and security of the consumer, the Blue Button is a sign to users on a web page that they can get a copy of their healthcare information by clicking the button.

With the investment made by the federal government via the HITECH Act for electronic health record adoption, there is a requirement to provide patients with copies of their health information. The Blue Button, when implemented, provides a solution to the requirement.

The larger concept is that the Blue Button can be implemented by doctors, hospitals, clinics, insurers, labs and pharmacies and allow users to download their health information from secure web sites. It is surprising that the capability to simply download or print patient health information is uncommon. In healthcare, the decision to link and share information will eventually be done electronically by the patient, but the capability to send health information across a variety of networks is not here yet.

What does the Blue Button mean if your business doesn’t have the need to enable downloading of health information? The button is not just a button – it is technology interfacing with people at a very basic level. Why does it have so much potential?

  • Message – The symbol conveys a clear message to the user as to how it works. No instructions necessary.
  • Simplicity – Everyone knows what to do when they see a button – push it. In this case, they will click on it. It is almost too simple.
  • Expectations – the user knows what will happen when they press the button.
  • Defacto Standard The same graphic can be used by many different organizations to mean the same thing. It is similar to the ribbon loop that represents charitable causes. Each cause is distinguished by the ribbon color (e.g. pink for breast cancer).
  • Application friendly – The Blue Button frees the data sources from determining the user interface. The software does not need to decide how to interface with portals or other applications to provide the information. It bypasses implementation and adoption challenges that unique or smaller vendors may not be able to support.

Even If your business isn’t in healthcare or you don’t provide services related to individuals’ healthcare information, the concept of a blue button can still be applied.

Not all technology needs to be complex or complicated. The best solutions are often the simplest solutions. Banks have a type of Blue Button already – their ATMs. You put your card in, identify yourself with a code, push a button and money comes out. Voila! “Buy it now” on eBay offers an easy alternative to bidding in an auction.

In healthcare, most organizations believe that engaging the consumer in managing their own health information is key to improving quality of care and reducing the cost. The Blue Button gives the consumer the ability to compile their own health records from multiple sources to better facilitate their care with multiple providers.

Every company should have a Blue Button. You may find that the button is why customers come back every time. It gives you the opportunity to engage customers in your business. And that’s how relationships with customers are formed.