Blue Button Mashup Challenge

Just by using Blue Button (VA.gov/bluebutton), more than 750,000 seniors, Veterans and other service members and their families can download their health and medical records and actively take part in their health care.

The Consumer eHealth Program in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is hoping to bring the Blue Button to all Americans.

We recently announced a new Investing in Innovation (i2) competition that calls on developers to create an app that mashes up an individual’s Blue Button personal health data with open public health data that will result in better health care, better health, and lower costs.  ONC’s i2 program promotes the use of technology to find solutions that drive better outcomes, engage users in their health, and improve health care quality.

Blue Button was launched in 2010 by the Department of Veterans Affairs and it gives patients a highly visible, clickable button that enables them to download their medical records in digital form from a secure website offered by their doctors, insurers, pharmacies or other health-related service. It is now used by nearly a half million Veterans, a quarter million Medicare beneficiaries and nearly 75,000 Service Members and their families.  Blue Button appears on the patient portals of more than one third of America’s hospitals and nearly one third of practicing physicians, and has been or is being implemented by more than 200 major health plans including Aetna, United Health Care and Blue Cross. It is quickly expanding beyond the VA to have nationwide impact and working with the VA, ONC is looking to developers to help bring this tool to all Americans.

Giving patients information about the health care they receive is valuable in itself, but it is also important so patients can use that information to make informed decisions about that care.   One way to do so is by helping people contextualize their data to take action―and that’s what this challenge is about.

Challenge participants must mash up Blue Button® data with information from at least two of the three-part aim categories defined by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Innovations Center: better health care, better health, and lower costs:

· Better health care — Incorporate data related to one or more aspects of patient care, including safety, effectiveness, patient-centeredness, timeliness, efficiency, and equity (the domains of quality in patient care as defined by the Institute of Medicine).

· Better health — Incorporate data that encourages healthier lifestyles, including data related to physical activity, nutrition, avoidance of behavioral risks, and preventative care.

· Lower costs — Incorporate data that encourages preventative medicine, improved coordination of health care services, and/or helps to reduce waste and inefficiencies.

Publicly available data can come from any high-quality open source, such as HealthData.gov. Apps should help individuals take action by giving their health information a more meaningful context.  These actions could include, but are not limited to, reaching a better understanding of their current health status like getting a clearer picture of their own blood glucose readings as compared with others of their gender, ethnicity, or in their geographic area.  Perhaps an individual could use decision support software to choose between treatment options that have been recommended for them, and consider the costs of those different options for themselves.  And what if by targeting a person’s everyday behaviors with an app, they were able to modify the ones that that have the greatest impact on their health in order to adjust their behavior toward their own better health.

The winner of the challenge will receive $45,000; the second- and third-place awards are $20,000 and $10,000, respectively. The challenge entry period closes September 5, 2012 and winners will be announced later in the fall.  Visit legacy.health2con.com/devchallenge/blue-button-mash-up-challenge for more details.

This is an exciting time in healthcare as we have more and more opportunities to be active participants in our own health and health care.  Blue Button is gaining traction as one of the technical underpinnings of patient access to health information.  I look forward to your ideas on additional innovative ways we can empower individuals and their families to be partners in their health through health IT.

Damon Davis is a special assistant in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

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