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VA Offers $50,000 In Personal Health Record Competition

The first team that builds a PHR using the Blue Button download format and places it on the websites of 25,000 physicians across the nation wins the prize.

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In one of the largest personal health record (PHR) initiatives to date, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) said it will offer a $50,000 prize to the first team that builds a PHR using the Blue Button download format, and arranges to install the PHR on the websites of 25,000 physicians across the nation.

Sponsored by the VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2), which creates opportunities to test new ideas from VA employees, academia, and the private sector, the Blue Button Prize Competition began on Monday and will run through October 18. The winners will be announced in mid-November.

"Over six million veterans who receive healthcare from VA can already download their personal health data using the Blue Button," VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, said in a statement. "We want to be sure the 17 million veterans who receive care from non-VA doctors and hospitals can do the same."

VA officials said the department wants to encourage widespread use of Blue Button PHRs outside federal healthcare programs to benefit all Americans--including veterans who receive care from non-VA providers. Jessica Ohlin, health IT analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare the payer/provider model that this initiative fosters could yield excellent results for wider use of PHRs.

"This announcement demonstrates the power and possibilities of the integrated payer/provider model. Since the VA is an organization that both pays for and provides care to veterans, it has more ability to implement large-scale health IT initiatives," Ohlin said. "Kaiser Permanente, which also uses the payer/provider model, is a private sector entity able to do this as well--and not coincidentally the one with the greatest PHR use among its members."

Outlining the rules of the contest, the VA said once a participant has achieved Blue Button PHR installations on the websites of 25,000 physicians or clinical professionals, they can send in their entry with the required documentation. If they are the first to do so, they can collect the $50,000 prize; however, if they don't get 25,000 installs, they should enter anyway by the deadline because they may qualify to share the prize with others.

The VA first offered Blue Button downloads through its My HealtheVet website in August, 2010; since then nearly 300,000 veterans have downloaded their PHR data, including upcoming appointments at a VA Medical Center, medications, allergies, health reminders and, in a recent upgrade, their laboratory results.

The Department of Defense also provides Blue Button download capabilities to its TRICARE beneficiaries, and Medicare beneficiaries can download their claims histories using the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Blue Button functions.

"Veterans can now expect that downloading their data will be a routine part of the care they receive from VA," White House chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra said in a statement. "We want veterans across America--and the general public--to think of Blue Button downloads as something they receive from their family doctors as a routine matter."

Qualifying PHRs must be easily installed by physicians and other clinical professionals, must be readily available to all of the physicians' patients, and must allow patients to download their data using VA's Blue Button's simple text-based format--which can be read and printed on any computer without using special software.

Getting a low-cost user-friendly application into the hands of physicians is a key part of the competition, VA chief technology officer Peter L. Levin, said in a statement.

"Moving health data can and should be safe, simple, and inexpensive," Levin said. "Blue Button technology is all of those things. Doctors who use PHRs developed as part of this competition can give their patients the ability to keep and control their own health data. Blue Button's simple format can even support patient-authorized health data transfers to other doctors or hospitals."

Frost & Sullivan's Ohlin said it may still take some time for non-VA physicians to adopt PHR technology. "I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for widespread non-VA adoption just yet." Ohlin observed. "Once the VA's PHR is integrated with Blue Button, hopefully success breeds success: care providers come to see the benefits of offering collaborative care using a PHR--both for their work flow management and for their patients' health and satisfaction--and consumers drive demand for more features and enhanced functionality."

Recent reports have shown that consumers have been slow to adopt PHRs. According to an IDC Health Insights' survey published earlier this year, only 7% of respondents in 2011 reported ever having used a PHR, and less than half of those respondents (47.6%) are still using one to manage their family's health. Further, the majority of respondents (50.6%) said that the reason why they had not used the online technology was that they were not familiar with PHRs.

Last month, Google confirmed it will be closing Google Health, a consumer-oriented PHR that they said had received some adoption among tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts. However the online technology never realized the widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people that the company had hoped for.

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