A Better Blue Button: Service Empowers People to Take Charge of Their Health

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Source: CMS.gov

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is embracing innovation and taking advantage of technology to fuel changes that will lead to better care, smarter spending, and a healthier America. That was the key message from the second annual CMS IT Conference held in Baltimore in August 2016.

The conference brought together U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and CMS IT leaders, as well as industry partners, to discuss the agency’s strategic vision for the future of health IT. George Linares, CMS Chief Technology Officer (CTO), opened the event, noting that while the constantly evolving technology landscape and rapid pace of innovation can be a challenge, it also offers the opportunity for CMS to “reevaluate and reinvent ourselves.”

These overarching themes were exemplified in a discussion about CMS’ efforts to enhance its Blue Button service. Blue Button was started in 2010 to give beneficiaries the ability to easily download up to three years of health data from patient portals and other secure websites, such as Medicare.gov. Since launching the service, nearly 1.5 million beneficiaries have downloaded their CMS health data.

But despite these successes, beneficiaries have lacked a way to put their health data to use. This led CMS to look for ways to make Blue Button a better, more functional tool for the Medicare community. What they found was that several third-party applications—like those downloaded to a smartphone—were already allowing Medicare beneficiaries to give the application access to their health data. To do so, however, the application needed to borrow user IDs and passwords, creating potential security vulnerabilities for beneficiaries. 

Recognizing an opportunity, CMS engaged HHS’ Entrepreneurs-in-Residence program to help build a new Blue Button Application Program Interface (API) that will allow Medicare beneficiaries to connect and share their health data to the applications, services and research programs that they trust.

According to Mark Scrimshaw, HHS’ Entrepreneur-in-Residence working with CMS, the enhanced Blue Button API, set to launch in 2017, will help empower patients to use their health data in new and exciting ways. He pointed to three key benefits of the enhanced service. First, it will give patients an enhanced view of their personal health records and allow them to securely share that data with third-party applications. Second, it will enable them to share their health information with critical research programs. Lastly, it will help increase care coordination by giving providers and caregivers better access to patient data that can be used to improve beneficiary care.

Click here to learn more and stay up-to-date about the changes coming to Blue Button.