Leading Pharmacies and Retailers Join Blue Button Initiative

Nick Sinai and Adam Dole | February 7, 2014

Today, as part of the growing movement to help customers access and securely share their own health information, several of the Nation’s largest retail pharmacy chains and associations are pledging to support the Blue Button initiative—a public-private partnership between the health care industry and the Federal Government that aims to empower all Americans with access to their own electronic health information. These steps will help patients access their prescription information and further empower millions of Americans to better manage their healthcare.

The concept behind Blue Button is simple: consumers should be able to securely access their own health information and share it with health care providers, caregivers, and others they trust.

In 2010, with the support of the White House, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) launched the Blue Button initiative to give veterans the ability to access and download their health records on a secure, online patient portal. Since then, the initiative has expanded and more than 150 million Americans today are able to use Blue Button-enabled tools to access their own health information from a variety of sources including healthcare providers, health insurance companies, medical labs, and state health information networks.

An increasingly important part of the Blue Button initiative is making patient information available in secure, simple, standard formats to help spur the development of innovative consumer applications and devices that can help patients better manage their own health care and facilitate the electronic sharing of data with trusted partners, such as medical specialists who might not otherwise have direct access to relevant records.

That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC)—with input from more than 70 organizations—recently released “Blue Button+External Links Disclaimer, a set of technical guidelines to help providers structure their data in standardized machine-readable formats.  And the vast majority of doctors and hospitals will be working to use the Blue Button+ standards beginning this year as part of their participation in the Federal Electronic Health Record incentive program.

In parallel, as part of today’s announcement, the following companies are committing to work over the next year towards standardizing patient prescription information to fuel the growth of private-sector applications and services that can add value to this basic health information:

  • Walgreens, which currently provides its customers with the ability to view and download their prescription history from a Blue Button-branded online portal, plans to adopt BlueButton+ guidelines to make it easier for customers to easily and securely share their data with others, including third-party applications to help people better manage their health and coordinate their healthcare. Walgreens also recently announced a new partnership with the VA which gives veterans convenient, online access to a broader set of personal health data, including immunization records.
  • Kroger, which provides approximately half of its customers access to their own pharmacy records through a secure online portal, will be launching a secure portal for the remainder of its stores, many of which operate under local banner names—including Smiths and Fry’s—in addition to developing new functionality that will enable all of its customers to download a copy of their records, and is exploring plans to provide customers with a machine-readable copy of their records that can be shared and uploaded into third-party applications and services.
  • CVS Caremark currently provides its customers with the ability to securely access and download their medication lists and prescription history, as well as refill prescriptions through its various online portals, including CVS.com and caremark.com.
  • Rite Aid, through its MyPharmacy online portal, currently provides its customers with electronic access to their own prescription history, tools to better manage their prescriptions, and medication management reminders via phone, email or text message. Rite Aid has committed to improving patient engagement and empowerment through expanded access to their own health data and an evolving set of online service capabilities.
  • Safeway, one of the newest members of the Blue Button community, is committing to enable its customers to securely access and share their own electronic pharmacy records.

The following national pharmacy associations are also joining the Blue Button initiative and committing to promote the adoption and use of Blue Button among the pharmacies they represent:

  • National Association Chain Drug Stores, which represents traditional drug stores, supermarkets, and mass merchants with pharmacies. Chains operate more than 41,000 pharmacies and employ more than 3.8 million employees, including 132,000 pharmacists.
  •  Pharmacy Health IT Collaborative, which represents nine national pharmacy professional associations representing more than 250,000 members.
    • National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, which promotes leadership, sharing, learning, and policy exchange among state pharmacy associations and pharmacy leaders nationwide.

These commitments from some of the Nation’s largest retail pharmacy chains and associations promise to provide a growing number of patients with easy and secure access to their own personal pharmacy prescription history and allow them to check their medication history for accuracy, access prescription lists from multiple doctors, and securely share this information with their healthcare providers.

As companies move towards standard formats and the ability to securely transmit this information electronically, Americans will be able to use their pharmacy records with new innovative software applications and services that can improve medication adherence, reduce dosing errors, prevent adverse drug interactions, and save lives. The World Health Organization estimates that poor medication adherence alone costs the United States up to $300 billion dollars a year.

In another important step, earlier this week HHS issued a rule allowing labs to provide patients or their representatives direct access to their test results upon request. Building on the availability of tools like Blue Button, patients will soon have expanded access to their own laboratory results, giving them critical information to track health care progress, spot errors, and make health decisions. Laboratories are encouraged to provide the lab results, at a patient’s request, in machine-readable formats, making the information usable in a variety of applications and health IT tools.

The Blue Button initiative is one of several MyData Initiatives launched and supported by the Administration to provide Americans with secure access to their personal data in useful, digital formats.

For more information about Blue Button, including ways you can participate, please visit:  www.healthIT.gov/bluebutton, or view a fact sheet on key milestones [PDF – 264 kb].

Nick Sinai is U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer at OSTP

Adam Dole is a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services