Consumer Engagement via eHealth & Blue Button, Year-in-Review

Lygeia Ricciardi and Rebecca Mitchell Coelius | December 30, 2013

As 2013 comes to a close, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on and celebrate our collective achievements. The following are a few highlights from the past year, and some things to look forward to in the New Year.

2013: Going Main Stream

In 2013 consumer engagement via eHealth generally and Blue Button specifically felt like they turned a corner. It moved from relative obscurity to themes thought leaders widely support.  The journal Health Affairs kicked off the year with a special issue on the “New Era of Patient EngagementExternal Links Disclaimer (to which we at ONC contributed). Then on the main stage at HIMSS, President Bill Clinton underscored the importance of patient engagement and gave a shout out to the Blue Button initiative. The Wall Street Journal, Consumer Reports, NPR and C-SPAN were among the media outlets covering the growth of patient engagement enabled by technology.  Increasingly, thought leaders are using “Blue Button” to denote not only electronic access by patients to their health data, but also the greater movement toward patient engagement and empowerment that it enables.

Growth of the Blue Button Pledge Program to 500+ organizations

A program that began in 2011 as a small network of 40 “misfits” drawn to the relatively nascent concept of patient engagement has blossomed to 515 organizations, pledging to increase patient access to and use of their own health data to improve their health and healthcare experience. To view the complete list of participating organizations, which include consumer advocacy groups, health insurers, provider practices, pharmacies, and more – please go to:

Another Successful Consumer Health IT Summit

In September we held the 3rd Annual Consumer Health IT Summit in the Great Hall at HHS in Washington D.C. The goal of the summit was to galvanize the Blue Button Pledge community and to bring together leaders from the public and private sectors leading the charge to equip and empower patients to better manage their health electronically. The event attracted more than 1,000 attendees–with 300+ on site and another 735 participating remotely.  It also generated a fair amount of trade press coverage (iHealthBeat External Links Disclaimer, FierceHealthIT External Links Disclaimer, NextGov External Links Disclaimer, MobilHealthNews External Links Disclaimer, EHR Intelligence External Links Disclaimer, etc.) and articles in the Huffington Post and an American Cancer Society blog post.  In addition, nearly 400K people interacted with #BlueButton tweets.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Strengthens Right to Access

In early 2013, HHS released the final HIPAA Omnibus Rule. It enhanced patient’s privacy protections, and provided patients with new rights to access their health information electronically. In September 2013, Leon Rodriguez, director for the Office for Civil Rights and enforcer of HIPAA regulations, released a memorandum clarifying that providers are required to give patients a copy of their health records in electronic form if that’s how it’s maintained. To learn more, please go to:

Engaging the Developer Community to Build Blue Button Enabled Apps

Blue Button Co-Design Challenge

In June we launched the Blue Button Co-Design Challenge to expand our understanding of how patients want to use their clinical data, and to increase the number of Blue Button + standards enabled tools and applications. From the winning ideas submitted by patients and caregivers, developers and patient co-designers worked together to create the products they envisioned. We crowned three winners: Genie MD, Ice Blue Button and Hint Health. Learn more here: External Links Disclaimer.


The Blue Button initiative sponsored the “Power to the Patient” Codeathon at Health 2.0’s annual conference, exploring the future of Blue Button by making patient claims and EOB data easier to use and understand, and patient generated data useful in the clinical setting. Learn more here:

Developer Forums and New Resources

In July we hosted two sold-out Developer Forums in New York and San Francisco to teach practical skills necessary to use Blue Button + standards within patient applications and tools. To make Blue Button + standards easier to use, we released thousands of synthetic sample data sets and new Dev training and testing tools like the Direct testing tool and the Growth chart tutorial.

We are currently in the process of updating our Blue Button + implementation guide (created in early 2013) to reflect all of the progress our portfolio of standards have made in the past year including: Blue Button + Direct, Blue Button + REST, and Blue Button + Claims. You can access all these resources here: External Links Disclaimer. Thank you to the community members who have contributed to these resources!

Expanding Blue Button Data Sources


In November 2013, Walgreens announced it will be making Blue Button available to its customers to access and download their prescription information online or via the Walgreens mobile app. ONC will continue to support Walgreens in the coming months on providing more advanced Blue Button offerings such as making patients’ prescription information machine readable for the purposes of uploading into other third party apps. In 2014, ONC will also be working with several of the nation’s other leading pharmacies who have made similar commitments. Stay tuned!

State Immunization Registries

ONC is actively working with seven states to pilot direct consumer Blue Button access to immunization information residing in state immunization registries. These pilots are currently in their formative stages and will launch in 2014.

Blue Button & Clinical Trials

In November 2013, Pfizer, Novartis and Eli Lilly announced they will be building an open platform that uses a patient’s Blue Button clinical data to match him or her with appropriate clinical trials. According to Pfizer, their use of Blue Button will enable any patient who has access to their Blue Button data to discover and learn about relevant clinical trials, based on a trial’s target profile criteria. This new platform will help to expand the overall pool of potential patients and increase the likelihood of a match. The product is scheduled to launch in spring of 2014.

Looking Ahead to 2014: From Main Stream to Main Street?

Meaningful Use Stage 2 (VDT) Takes Effect

Beginning next year, eligible providers and hospitals that have completed two or more years of Stage 1 of Meaningful Use must move to demonstrate Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements including giving patients the capability to view, download and transmit their health data. Additionally, beginning in 2014, Meaningful Use Stage 1 requirements change and eligible providers and hospitals attesting must demonstrate the capability to provide more than 50% of unique patients with the ability to view, download and transmit their health data. Learn more here:

The Blue Button Campaign/Blue Button Connector

ONC conducted focus-group testing and other market research to inform the development of consumer public service announcement (PSA) videos and other creative assets to educate targeted consumer groups (caregivers, chronic disease patients and seniors) about Blue Button and the benefits of having information readily available online. We also developed a website called the Blue Button Connector to help consumers to find out which data sources may offer them personal Blue Button access to data, and which apps and tools are available to help them use that information to achieve their health goals. We plan to release a beta version of the Connector in early 2014 and enlist your help to disseminate the PSAs and other assets, as well as to populate the Blue Button Connector site with your Blue Button offerings. To learn more, please go to:

Upcoming Codeathon and Provider/Developer Training Sessions

We will be hosting a codeathon and series of training sessions over the weekend of January 17-19th in Boston, Massachusetts in collaboration with MIT Hacking Medicine and Tufts Medical School. We are especially hoping to recruit providers and patients to this event to work with the many developers and designers we already have registered. Learn more and register to attend here: External Links Disclaimer.

As you can see, we have a lot of exciting work ahead for 2014 and we look forward to our continued collaboration with you in support of strengthening patient engagement for better health and healthcare.

Happy Holidays to you and yours from ONC and the Blue Button team!

Stay connected… We love to hear from you.  Follow us on Twitter @ONC_Health IT and use the hashtag #bluebutton.