[Ed. note: This guest post by Lygeia Ricciardi of the Office of Consumer eHealth, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, US Department of Health and Human Services, explains how the Blue Button can help you access and use your healthcare records.]
Wouldn't you like to have key information about your health or the health of a loved one safely and easily accessible via mobile phone or computer?
Think of Blue Button as an easy way for you to get your health records securely and electronically. It won't magically fix everything, but it's paving the way for a more personalized, convenient, and higher quality healthcare experience for patients and their families by putting vital information at their fingertips.
The Blue Button symbol is now appearing on health-related websites nationwide. Click it to get key information from your personal health records securely and electronically from your doctor, insurance company, pharmacy, or lab. You can check your information, share it, and use it to manage your health... and make your life easier.
What can you do with electronic access to your health records?
Accessing your records online lets you check that they are accurate and complete, and make corrections if needed, particularly to critical information like allergies, medications, and medical conditions. It also lets you go back and confirm what your doctor told you during an appointment, a time when it can be tough to absorb new or difficult information.
Sometimes, having your health records can spare you discomfort or risk. For example, if a new doctor wants to perform a test, but you can show him or her the record from when you previously received that test, you may not have to go through it (or pay for it) again.
It's also important that all of your doctors and caregivers are on the same page and understand all of the treatment you are receiving, including all of the medications prescribed to you. Because not all health care providers use electronic health record systems yet, and because different providers may use different systems, Blue Button gives you the chance to create a complete record of your own health history that can help you, your family, and your care professionals. In other words, even if your doctor's office doesn't use EHRs, you can make your own.
One way to do this is by storing and managing your health information in a Personal Health Record (PHR) or secure, mobile application on your smartphone or computer. Some health systems and insurers offer their patients access to their own portal, but if you are seeing multiple doctors, you may have multiple portals and log-ins.
Having a stand-alone PHR or mobile app can help you compile all your health information and keep it in one place.
Why is Blue Button important?
Any cancer patient or survivor in America can tell you that many doctors, hospitals, and specialists don't share critical patient information with each other, even when they are all treating the same patient. You can't assume your oncologist will send your medical records to your primary care physician or other specialists unless you get involved. And because people with cancer often receive treatment from multiple clinicians their care can be fragmented and uncoordinated care. PHRs let patients and their families consolidate medical records, and the Blue Button lets you get your records into a PHR or secure mobile app.
The healthcare system has been slower than banking or shopping to take advantage of digital technology like the Internet. Until recently most doctors stored patient health records only in paper files. But today the majority has made the switch to electronic records. Which means patients can more easily take advantage of a right we've had by law since 1996: to get a copy of our own health information.
How do you find the Blue Button?
Today if you are a Veteran or Medicare beneficiary you already have access to Blue Button. For example, Medicare patients can access 3 years of their Part A, B, and D claims data through the Blue Button through their account at MyMedicare.gov.
On other websites, if you don't see the Blue Button or aren't sure if it's offered, it's worth checking to see if your health care provider or insurance company offers the ability to download your health records. They may not call it "Blue Button" but they may still have the same capability. If not, they still have a legal obligation to give you copies of your records on paper or in an electronic format. Here's a memo you can print and take with you that explains your rights to this information.
Does the Blue Button protect your privacy?
Privacy is an important concern for many people, particularly when it comes to their health records, which may contain highly sensitive information.
An important thing to understand about Blue Button is that you-as a patient or authorized family member--are the one in control. By using Blue Button, you are not sharing new health information with anyone who doesn't already have it; you are just accessing the information others have about you. How you use or share your information is up to you.
It's important to practice good security for any health information you want to keep private, by locking away paper copies, keeping electronic systems password protected, and not sharing copies with anyone you don't trust.
What's next for Blue Button?
Many people have begun to use smartphone apps and tools like digital pedometers to help measure and manage everyday health activities, like remembering medications, tracking diet and exercise, and connecting with others with similar health concerns. When you combine these tools with access to your own health records via Blue Button, there will be many opportunities to more effectively set and reach your personal health goals.
In early 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services will launch a website that lets you find out which of your healthcare providers, payers, and others who hold health information about you offers Blue Button, and link you to it. Check back here to find it: www.healthit.gov/bluebutton.
You can learn more about Blue Button. To see how today's healthcare system is getting an upgrade for the 21st century and about the benefits of accessing your health information online, watch this video.
Ms. Ricciardi is the director of the Office of Consumer eHealth, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, US Department of Health and Human Services.