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VA: Private sector will make Blue Button more sophisticated

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The VA's downloadable personal health record capability--known as "Blue Button"--could be more sophisticated, but a VA official says it's up to the private sector to make it so.

"We're trying to get the government out of the application business," said VA Chief Technology Officer Peter Levin in a July 21 call with reporters.

"We don't want to write the applications, we want other people to take our data and write cool applications," he added.   

Veterans can currently download their personal medical information, such as medication history, from the MyHealtheVet website as a plain text file or .pdf.

Levin said the VA has no plans to introduce additional formats, such as .csv. "We did make a deliberate decision to provide veterans the simplest possible format we could think of," he added. "If the veteran wants it in an Excel spreadsheet, those are, I would say, straightforward macros that some people, I think, have already written."

The department announced July 19 a competition to award $50,000 to the first team to install the Blue Button on 25,000 private sector physician, or other medical provider, websites by Oct. 18 or sooner.

It's possible that competitors could offer .csv format to physicians as a way of recruiting more users, said Jonah Czerwinski, director of the VA Innovation Initiative.

The competition is in part a means to extend Blue Button capability so that not only veterans have access to it, Czerwinski said. "Patients are patients. They're not necessarily veteran patients versus average American patients. This is something we believe is going to be useful to everybody."

PHRs differ from electronic medical records in that former are "incomplete, they are not necessarily comprehensive, and they're not clinically valid, because effectively anybody can change them," Levin said.

For more:
- listen to the July 21 VA press call
go to the VA Blue Button competition webpage

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