Blue Button Feature Offers Quick Access to Health Records for Military Patients, Providers

by U.S. Medicine

April 12, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC—Military health care beneficiaries currently can access their own health data by choosing the web-based “Blue Button” feature on TRICARE Online (TOL). In an upgrade that will be available before the end of the year, they also will be able to use the site for secure, two-way communication with providers.

The TOL Blue Button feature currently allows users the ability to view, print, and save their allergy profile, medication profile, and demographics in either PDF or text on their own computers. Enhancements are now underway to the feature that will give TRICARE beneficiaries the ability to access and download their lab results, problem lists and encounter notes from data pulled from DoD and VA databases.

“They can download in either PDF or .txt” said Stanley Adamus, Defense Health Services Systems project controller for TOL. “So they can either share it with their provider or populate their own personal health record if they elect to have a personal health record.”

The Blue Button feature was announced last year by the Obama Administration and is part of a federal-wide effort to give patients the ability to easily view, print and download their health information and share it with their providers and others. VA developed the Blue Button, a form of patient portal, in collaboration with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, DoD, and the Markle Foundation’s Consumer Engagement Workgroup.

Patients often have difficulty accessing their health care records quickly, which could be critical in an emergency situation. With the Blue Button feature, data can easily be provided to help hospitals and physicians provide appropriate care. In addition, when patients see doctors outside of their usual health care system, they can easily provide information on medications, allergies and other items.

Jenna Noble, Defense Health Services Systems deputy program manager in the Clinical Support Division, explained that giving beneficiaries easy access to their own information helps them become “more involved in their healthcare,” benefitting both them and their providers.

Enhancing TOL

Noble said that enhancements to TOL are an ongoing process. One of the most significant will be online this fall when beneficiaries will be able to use secure messaging to communicate with their provider team if they choose to do so. The convenience will go both ways; providers also will have a timely way to contact patients.

Secure messaging is now in use at some VA facilities and is expected to be available in primary care at each VAMC by September 30, 2011, according to VA’s web site. “The Army, Navy and Air Force are working to implement the secure messaging capability…TOL is working to have a single sign on capability [for that],” said Adamus.

Moving forward, TOL designers are also interested in enhancing site navigation, improving registration and sign-on capabilities and looking for opportunities to put more services online for beneficiaries.

Through TOL, many beneficiaries currently can schedule medical appointments at their designated MTF. They also have the option to request refills for one or more prescriptions on TOL and check the status of their refill. In addition, active duty servicemembers are able to complete some of their required health risk assessment surveys through TOL.

Making the system as easy as possible for everyone to use—even those who are not tech savvy—is important to the system’s architects. “We concentrate a lot on our beneficiary capabilities and how to make their life easier,” Noble explained. “If making their life easier is making the provider’s life easier, then that’s what we do.”Since 2002 when the system was introduced, TOL has had 1.4 million registrations with an average of about 2,500 new registrations a week. Since implementation of the online appointment and prescription refill capabilities in January 2010, about 225,000 appointments have been scheduled and 68,000 refills have been ordered.

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