Blue Button Initiative Picking Up Speed

Posted on October 1, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

The idea of the “Blue Button” has been gradually filtering into the consciousness of EMR proponents for a while now. As readers may know, the concept comes from the VA, where the idea has been to offer a single-click “blue button” allowing patients to get their VA treatment data into the hands of civilians healthcare providers.

Lately, a next gen approach known as the Automated Blue Button Initiative (ABBI) has come into focus as the right way to bring the Blue Button to the healthcare world at large. Given the energy behind ABBI, and the profile of the people involved, my guess is that it will catch fire quickly.

GE Health Standards Architect and ABBI member Keith Boone told an audience at HealthCamp Boston, where Blue Button was a very hot topic, that the button will evolve from a flat ASCII text download to more flexible formats such as XML, according to

Along these lines, I was interested to note that as ONC head Farzad Mostashari sees it, the ultimate goal for the Blue Button is to give patients more control. “The killer enabler is actually patient online View-Download-Transmit, esp with #ABBI.” he tweeted this week.

The ONC’s Standards & Interoperability Framework community, meanwhile, is working on standards and tools to push personal data to a specific location. These include using Direct secure messaging protocols and Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture, according to Douglas Fridsma, MD, director of ONC’s Office of Standards and Interoperability, who spoke with Healthcare IT News.

The standards and  specs will allow patients to both download health information to their computer and route data from their provider to PHRs, e-mail accounts or other preferred applications.

All told, it looks like a key set of Meaningful Use Stage 2 required technologies are coming right along. Will patients actually use them? Hard to say, as we haven’t exactly seen a huge groundswell of PHR love or demand for EMR access to date. But progress toward making sharing possible never hurts.