ONC expanding Blue Button capabilities

Wednesday - 10/24/2012, 11:21am EDT

Oct. 24, 2012 - Agency of the Month

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By Sean McCalley
Federal News Radio

The Blue Button initiative has already let more than one-million veterans and active-duty troops download their personal health records. But the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information (ONC) has a larger audience in mind.

"What we want to do is to allow people using other than just the VA and DoD systems the ability to download information that can be kept in a discreet manner so it can interact with personal health records in other systems," said David Muntz, principal deputy national coordinator at the ONC, and this week's guest on Agency of the Month.

David Muntz (Read full bio.)

This builds off the success of other agencies, like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in providing electronic health records to civilian federal employees. When the ONC manages to make Blue Button compatible for multiple systems, the potential for EHR distribution is nationwide.

Muntz says it's part of an effort to foster more patient interaction, which the ONC says produces better medical results. By simply putting patients in control of their documents makes them more involved with their medical needs.

"We know from results that a more engaged patient has far better outcomes than one who is not," said Muntz.

It also solves the issue of privacy and security confidentiality, because the patient essentially becomes the custodian of their own records.

Public input critical to ONC mission

The Federal Advisory Committee Act allows the ONC to directly consult the public for input on pilot programs and policies. Through FACA the agency created two different groups of public representatives. Those groups help ONC garner feedback on a range of issues but, in particular, they help it with input on its meaningful use questions.

Meaningful use is a term that defines a set of standards set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to empower patients, spread the use of EHRs, and help doctors know more about their patients.

"It's an open forum and the public gets a chance to listen and to react and participate broadly," said Muntz. "And I think that's really critical."

Speaking events also help the ONC get direct feedback. Besides having direct conversations with work groups, doctors, patients and policy thinkers, the ONC can spread its message by having public conversation about its mission goals.

"That process is very useful," said Muntz. "[It] allows us to get into a meaningful conversation about what we're doing and how it's impacting them."

It's a concept that's best encapsulated by one of Muntz's favorite expressions: "You need to learn to lead with your ears."