An Interview with Adobe’s Michael Jackson on the Blue Button Initiative

At the 4th Annual Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco, Adobe’s Michael Jackson accepted the Blue Button Developers’ Challenge Award 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.


Learn more about the Blue Button Initiative
Check out the following video on the Health 2.0 website. It begins with Peter Levin of the VA, and it provides great background on the Blue Button initiative. It also includes footage of Michael Jackson accepting the award on behalf of Adobe at the Health 2.0 conference.



Congratulations on Adobe’s win. Tell us about your background?

I have what I like to call a “hybrid” background. I’ve always had passions for technology, healthcare, and business. Very early in my career, I served in the US Coast Guard as a Petty Officer Electronics Technician (ET). Later, I went on to earn a degree in Computer Information Systems and then an MBA, while working as a government sales manager at an IT company. For the past ten years, though, I’ve held progressive sales and marketing roles in the Life Sciences industry which supplies pharmaceuticals, implantable medical devices, and neural analysis software into the healthcare ecosystem. That’s where I developed an understanding of the complex relationships that exist between healthcare providers, payers, and patients; and the ultimate goal of improving clinical outcomes while optimizing efficiencies. Now, in my role as Healthcare Solutions Manager at Adobe, I leverage every aspect of my experience to develop strategies for real-world solutions in this rapidly evolving market.


What was the idea behind the Blue Button Challenge?

The idea behind the Blue Button is simple. By clicking a little blue button on a website, veterans are now able to download their personal health record from a portal offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The downloaded file, which often contains years’ worth of medical data, is presented in the form of a plain ASCII text file. So, a challenge was issued to developers to find ways to enable Blue Button users to meaningfully interact with their health data in a 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.


Tell me about Adobe’s entry in the challenge. What problems did it attempt to solve and what Adobe technologies were part of the solution?

Team Adobe approached the Blue Button Challenge development process from the very beginning with the desired end results in mind. For example, we knew that each veteran would have unique needs for the information contained within these comprehensive records. So the first order of business as we developed the vision was to simplify the user’s experience as he extracts the desired data from the health record. Whether categorized by entry type, such as lab results or prescriptions, or streamlined to within a specific time range, the health data needed to be easily manipulated in order quickly produce accurate query results.

The data output format of the Personal Health Record was critical to the solution as well, since users would need to effectively interact with their downloaded records from multiple platforms and device types. Additionally, as downloaded data leaves the confines of a controlled enterprise network, it is important to maintain the integrity and security of the files. Therefore, striking a balance between security and interoperability was a recurring theme throughout the process as well.


Adobe’s winning Blue Button Challenge submission provides two powerful options for securely downloading and interacting with personal health data. First is the Blue Button Health Assistant, designed with Adobe Air technology. Adobe AIR offers an exciting new way to engage users with innovative, branded applications, without requiring changes to existing back-end technology or processes. The intuitive Health Assistant proof-of-concept app includes a wealth of features that  transform raw data into useful information. For example, the “Tracker” dynamically charts chronic data inputs, such as blood sugar levels, so the user can visually identify trends or spikes.

The other option for interacting with the Blue Button health record is a dynamic pdf document which is automatically generated and populated with extracted health data, incorporating PDF-Healthcare Best Practices. This feature-rich pdf document is viewable online or offline, from any browser on any platform, utilizing the ubiquitous Adobe Reader. Advanced features within Reader, including digital signatures, rights management, and others are activated by the document itself as it is accessed.

What did Adobe learn as part of this process?

It was especially rewarding to participate in this challenge where Adobe technologies demonstrated an immediate impact on a real-world  scenario. The process overall helped to validate significant trends that we had previously identified, including the emerging prevalence of Personal Health Records and our ability to satisfy the need for secure and interoperable solutions throughout  the healthcare enterprise.


Anything else you want to share?

Adobe continues to identify and develop ways to leverage Open Government as more than just a concept, but rather a tool to advance agency missions.


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