Super-enthused about Blue Button in pharmacies… I think

As the old saw goes, we were Blue Button before Blue Button was cool. We were part of the Markle workgroup where the concept was born, and at the very first Community Health Data Initiative conference we demonstrated how veterans could upload their BB files into HealthVault to share with other providers and use with hundreds of HealthVault-enabled apps. Still going strong today; check out the video at the end of this post!

Building on those early days, we’ve been key contributors to Blue Button Plus --- today, every (US-based) HealthVault user can receive and send BB+ messages and data using their free address (get yours today!), and thousands of messages pass through this channel every month, even before MU2 really takes hold. We even give back broadly by hosting the “trust bundles” for this stuff.

Suffice to say, we are big believers.

So on the face of things, we’re pretty excited about last Friday’s announcement that a bunch of pharmacies have pledged to make their information available via Blue Button. Medication data is one of the most useful things for folks to have in their personal records. It’s the basis of a great emergency profile, and there are a bunch of great apps out there like MyMedSchedule to help folks stick to their meds schedule or be warned about potentially dangerous interactions.

(Open invitation to any of these folks that we aren’t already working with --- try sending your BB data to a HealthVault address, and if you have any issues, just let us know.)

Buuuuuutt…. Despite that enthusiasm, we’re a little skeptical too. Anytime we see phrases like these, our spidey sense starts tingling:

  • “the following companies are committing to work over the next year towards standardizing patient prescription information”
  • “is exploring plans to provide customers with a machine-readable copy of their records”
  • “committed to improving patient engagement and empowerment through expanded access to their own health data and an evolving set of online service capabilities”

Let’s be up front here --- there isn’t any credible pharmacy today that is not already providing some online ability to order a refill. So if we’re going to define the Blue Button bar as “provide online access” then of course they all are doing it right now.

But what most of them are NOT doing (CVS as a major exception) --- is what Blue Button was really intended for --- making it easy for their customers to get their information out of their walled gardens. And frankly the weasel words in the release sound more like free PR with no commitment than anything else.

We’ll see. I am perhaps a bit over-sensitive to this because we’ve worked so hard to always back up our HealthVault statements with shipping, production code that real people can use. I really, really hope that that’s what will come out of the pharmacy industry on this. Fingers crossed!