“Why isn’t there a button on your website that I can click to access my personal medical history? A little blue button.”
That simple question was posed to the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA), and proved to be the catalyst for significant improvements in the ways that a veteran can interact with his own health data.
VA developed that Blue Button in collaboration with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the Department of Defense, along with the Markle Foundation’s Consumer Engagement Workgroup.
On August 2, 2010 President Obama announced the Blue Button initiative to thousands of applauding veterans, who stood to benefit from the ability to take ownership of their Personal Health Record (PHR), downloaded from the VA website with just a click.
*Blue Button comments begin at 24:00
That defining moment, however, was not the end of the story. Since each veteran’s comprehensive record was to be downloaded as a plain ASCII text file, the Markle and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations issued the Blue Button Developer Challenge on behalf of the VA. The goal of the challenge was to spur the innovative development of web-based solutions, enabling Blue Button users to meaningfully interact with their health data in an even more useful way. Sharing that common goal, respondents to the challenge were diverse; ranging from start-up IT companies and individual developers to Google and Microsoft.
On October 7, 2010, Adobe was announced the winner of the Blue Button Developer Challenge.
As the team lead, I had the privilege of receiving the award on Adobe’s behalf at the fourth annual Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco from a distinguished panel featuring Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, and Peter Levin, Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Also, I had the opportunity to deliver a presentation, highlighting key features of Blue Button Health Assistant, Adobe’s innovative solution that combines the intuitive real-time interface of Adobe AIR technology with the benefits of the secure, auditable, and ubiquitous PDF format (leveraging PDF-Healthcare Best Practices) regardless of the user’s platform, browser, or device.
These benefits resonated well with the discerning team of technology powerhouses who served as judges, including Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark; Assistant Vice President of the Health Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Steve Downs; Consumers Union health policy expert Steve Findlay; and personal health records pioneer Dr. James Ralston of Group Health Cooperative. Submissions were evaluated on the following key criteria:
- Usefulness to patients in helping them stay healthy or manage their care.
- Potential to impact health and well-being by addressing high-priority health goals.
- Platform neutral (can be accessed by a consumer with simple web browser).
- Usability / ease of use.
As a veteran myself, it was particularly rewarding to be a part of Team Adobe throughout this incredible process. But this story, and others like it, continues on as Adobe identifies and develops more ways to leverage Open Government as more than just a concept, but rather a tool to advance agency missions.