VA's Blue Button technology extending to rest of feds

Thursday - 1/26/2012, 10:55am EST

Peter Levin, chief technology officer, Veterans Affairs Department

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The electronic health records technology pioneered by the Veterans Affairs Department will soon be available to the rest of federal employees in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

Blue Button technology allows veterans to access their personal health information through the website MyHealtheVet. In addition to data they filled out themselves, veterans can also access their medications, lab work and wellness reminders.

Blue Button has been "wildly popular," said Peter Levin, VA's chief technology officer.

In fact, the feature has been so popular that last month the Office of Personnel Management asked carriers in FEHBP to add Blue Button functions to their personal health record systems. The extension of Blue Button was the result of VA convincing OPM that the technology was low-cost and high return, Levin said.

With data as personal as health information, security is of central concern. Levin reminds people no system is "perfectly secure."

"You're always to find somebody who's going to target an individual and be able to crack that code," Levin said. "That's awful, we don't like it and we're doing everything we can to prevent it. But it's really an impossible task."

What the government can prevent is someone hacking one account and being able to "meander around the system," he said.

Health records go mobile

Veterans — and patients in general — want the ease of accessing their records from anywhere, leading to the development of a Blue Button mobile app.

"It's a lot easier to show the doctor your iPhone or your smartphone ... and be able to safely, securely and reliably transfer that data from your phone or from your mobile app into their electronic record," Levin said.

Once the application program interfaces (APIs) are built, many people can then build services based on that technology, he said.

"We're not trying to build and design and deploy these systems ourselves. We're trying to do something a little bit more nuanced, a little bit more subtle, and ... make the data available to the veterans and to the value-added providers," Levin said.

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