Frequently Asked Questions

How does the Blue Button work?

The Blue Button enables you to securely access your personal health data online by clicking on a “Blue Button” logo or icon. You may have access to your claims and personal health information that is maintained by your doctors, hospitals, health plans, and others, depending on the tools and data they are offering. Patients can securely access their health data and then choose to download that data to their computer, thumb drive or smartphone without using any special software, or share that data with individuals they trust - whether it’s their other physicians or family members.

Is there a cost to use the Blue Button?

There should not be a cost. Ask your health care provider or health plan if they offer a way for you to view, download and share your health information online.

What kind of technology do I need to access the Blue Button?

Remember that unless you are a veteran, Medicare beneficiary or service member or your health plan, health care provider (doctor or hospital) or other entities where you seek care use Blue Button, it may not yet be available to you. When it becomes available, the Blue Button should allow you to download and/or print your own health information without using any special software. You shouldn’t need any special technology to take advantage of Blue Button’s ability to make it easier for you to view, download and share your personal health data with others you trust. However, you may want to consider using a personal health record to store and manage all your health information in one place. Increasingly, more health plans, health care providers, nursing homes, pharmacies, laboratories and other institutions that have your health information on file are offering you a portal or personal health record—a place for you to store and manage your health information online. You can also sign up to get one on your own.

Can I sign up for Blue Button today?

It depends if your health care providers, health insurance company, or other organizations that manage your health records (e.g. pharmacy, lab, etc.) offer Blue Button. You may be able to get your health information from several sources and compile it for a more complete picture of your health. The best way to find out is to ask. Although Blue Button is in its early stages, it is expanding rapidly. If you are a Medicare beneficiary, a veteran or an active service member you can get secure, electronic access to your health records today by clicking the Blue Button icon within your Medicare, VA, or military health patient portal. More and more doctors, health insurance companies and hospitals are offering “patient portals” through which patients and their families can view and download their health records.

Even if your healthcare providers don’t offer Blue Button, they are required under the law to let you see and get a copy of your health records. Read about your rights in this document [PDF - 82 KB] which you can download and take to your provider. This video also explains your rights.   

 

If I don’t have access to Blue Button now, why should I care about this?

Even if you don’t have access to Blue Button right now you still have a legal right to see and get a copy of your health records. Having electronic access to your health records allows you to have the information you need at your fingertips to share with other doctors or in case of an emergency.

More and more healthcare providers and health insurance companies are adopting Blue Button, which means that yours may soon be offering it, as well. Although Blue Button is in its early stages, it is expanding rapidly. The best way to find out is to ask. Ask your health care provider or health insurance company when they plan to offer Blue Button or a way for you to view, download, and share your health records online.

Even if your healthcare providers don’t offer Blue Button, they may be required under the law to provide you with your health records electronically, if they have the capability to do so. Read about your rights in this document [PDF - 82 KB] which you can download and take to your provider. This video also explains your right.

Does my doctor have to use the Blue Button?

No. Your doctor is not required to offer Blue Button to you today. However, there are financial incentives available from the federal government to encourage health care providers to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) and to use these systems in a way that improves your care. In order to receive these payments, doctors must provide their patients with an electronic copy of their health records. Over time, these requirements will expand and your doctor will be required to provide you with a way to view, download and share your health records online. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), however, your doctor does have to give you access to your health records upon request, and to do so in an electronic format if it’s easy for him or her to do so.

Does Blue Button let other people get access to my health records?

Blue Button puts the information others hold about you in your hands. You decide how to use it. Using Blue Button does not give anyone else access to your health records unless you choose to share it. Healthcare providers, such as doctors and hospitals, are accountable for the privacy and security of patients’ health records by a law called “The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).” Healthcare providers are required by HIPAA to set up physical, administrative and technical safeguards to protect your health records. This may include “access controls” like passwords and PIN numbers to help limit who has access to your information; “encryption” so your health information can’t be read or understood except by someone who is approved to view it; and an “audit trail” so there is a record of who has looked at your information and what changes were made to it and when.

Once you download your health records from your healthcare provider or health insurance company’s web site via Blue Button, it is your responsibility to protect that information.

How safe is it to log into Blue Button or use it to transmit my health records?

To ensure that your health records are kept private and secure, only you or someone who has your permission can access your health records through Blue Button. Since this requires that you log in to your healthcare provider’s or health insurance company’s web site or patient portal (a place for you to store and manage your health records online), you will likely be able to secure your health records with a username and password. The specific privacy and security safeguards associated with Blue Button vary depending on the organization that is offering it. Read the privacy policy on the site you are using for details.

To maximize the security of your information, we recommend that you use an encrypted “Direct” health email address. The Direct Project offers easy and secure messaging, enabling healthcare providers and hospitals to send your health records to you, including summaries of your recent visits, or reminders about preventive or follow-up care. Some Personal Health Records can provide you with a Direct Address that you can use to receive such messages. Direct Project messages are secure, which means that unlike email, they can be used by your healthcare provider to send your information securely to you and to other healthcare providers who are participating in your care. See if your healthcare provider and your personal health record provider support the Direct Project.

Once you download your health records, we recommend that you protect that information by either securing it with a password or encrypting it (translating it into a secret code).

Content last reviewed on September 20, 2017
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