Veterans Health Benefits “Blue Button”

Shedding Some Light on VA’s Blue Button

By Lauren Bailey November 26, 2010

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.