Creating a Path to Connect Patients to Their Own Health Information

Providing people with an easy way to access and share their own health information is fundamental to a health care system that puts patients at the center of their care while encouraging health care that is more coordinated, higher quality and more affordable.

Yet, even in this age of technology at our fingertips, several barriers still prevent the easy flow and integration of health care data among patients, doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and insurance companies.

Fortunately, the White House took an important step toward removing these obstacles recently by bringing together information technology developers from across the country to advance its “Blue Button 2.0” initiative. The program is meant to provide a secure, reliable and easy way for Medicare beneficiaries to begin to use their data with applications so they can be active partners in their own health care.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies across the United States share this vision and have long been working to make it a reality.

Currently, one hospital’s electronic medical record system may not be compatible with the electronic records in a doctor’s office or pharmacy. Barriers like this prevent the seamless exchange of information that is necessary across various settings of care and could be harmful. For example, a patient could have a dangerous reaction to a new medication if the hospital or pharmacy does not have important information regarding allergies, other prescription medicines or chronic conditions.

That is why we are encouraged that Blue Button 2.0 emphasizes the use of industry standards and open application programming interfaces. APIs help unrelated software from different sources connect to one another and manage the flow of data. This is how travel planning sites such as Expedia are able to seamlessly pull in information from airlines, hotels and other sources to provide users with easy access to information from multiple sources. In health care, this can help connect information in a standardized way to combine patient data from separate sources.

We have long advocated for the development and use of consistent IT standards and certification requirements across all participants in health care. Today, we are working closely with public and private sector partners to develop new standards that support the approach that CMS is promoting. The ability to exchange health information that is structured and coded in a standard format will ensure health care data is available regardless of the setting and reaches patients and medical professionals at the point of care, where it is needed most.  

While there is still much work to be done to achieve a fully interoperable health care system, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is encouraged by the Blue Button 2.0 initiative. In the future, the medical services that patients receive must be based on their specific needs, and they must be able to access their health care information, regardless of location. We look forward to future collaboration with policymakers and like-minded partners in the private sector to bring this vision to life for all Americans.


Justine Handelman is senior vice president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Office of Policy and Representation.

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