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Download Capability Backed As Essential To Meaningful Use

Markle Foundation recommends HHS push "blue button" function in health IT systems to allow patients to easily obtain medical records.

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The Markle Foundation has issued a policy paper recommending that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) make the "blue button" -- a way to click and download personal health information from a secure website -- a priority in all health IT efforts.

Released Tuesday, the policy paper is the work of the Markle Work Group on Consumer Engagement, a public-private collaboration operated and financed by the Markle Foundation, a group backed by 46 organizations that examines the role of IT in healthcare. Among the policies, practices, and recommendations set out in the document are the need to make the download capability a common practice and to implement security and privacy tools that will protect access to personal health information.

"By clicking the blue button, you could get your own health information electronically -- things like summaries of doctor visits, medications you are currently taking, or test results. Being able to have your own electronic copies and share them as you need to with your doctors is a first step in truly enabling people to engage in their healthcare," Carol Diamond, managing director at Markle, said in a statement. "This capability is not common today, but we have the opportunity to make it a basic expectation -- especially now that billions of public dollars will be flowing to help subsidize health information technology."

As the current wave of spending by the federal government and the private sector in health IT continues, consideration must be given to supporting an easy, safe, and efficient way for individuals to access their own health information electronically. The policy paper outlines several steps HHS can take to encourage the widespread implementation of the blue button.

One recommendation is to support the download capability in meaningful use and qualified or certified health IT. The report urges HHS to specify it as an option for providers and hospitals to achieve Stage 1 patient-engagement requirements and as an allowable means for providers to deliver electronic copies of records to individual patients.

The report also encourages making the download capability a core procurement requirement for federal- and state-sponsored health IT grants and projects, as well as a priority in health information exchanges (HIEs) and private-sector purchasing initiatives for personal health information services.

Additionally, the policy paper advocates collaboration on sample data sets. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are leading the way in making publicly available sample data sets for demonstrations. The document calls on other private sector custodians of health information to join the effort by contributing additional sample data sets and joining in problem-solving.

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