Is Blue Button a specific technology?
No, but it used to be. Blue Button started as a simple-as-it-gets American Standard Code for Information Interchange text (ASCII) file. But that was only the start. As more organizations adopted the Blue Button and more patients used it, it became apparent that there was a need for more—and more complex—ways of downloading and transmitting data.
Adding Portable Document Format (PDF) formatting for Blue Button downloads happened quickly. Organizations offering Blue Button were also encouraged to experiment with other formats, including the industry’s HL7-based Continuity of Care Document (CCD) and other XML-tagged formats—so long as the human-readable ASCII and .pdf formats remained available to users.
As of September 2012, Blue Button is no longer constrained to mean a text or PDF format—so long as consumers can view, download, and print their health data. In the near future, we expect consumer access to health data through the Blue Button will also include the ability for consumers to be able to also transmit their health data and have it available in both human and machine readable format. Importantly, however, organizations that provide the more basic "Blue Button"—through ASCII text or PDF files—are not discouraged from continuing as before. Rather, they are encouraged to build on and evolve the technical capability they have.
The Button has become a recognized brand that signifies consumer access to and use of electronic health data. We hope that organizations will continue to build on and evolve the technical capability they have available for patients.