This weekend is Boston’s first ever Blue Button Innovation Challenge

If you missed the big word on the street, this weekend will be Boston’s first hackathon hosted by Tufts University MedStart with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) H@cking Medicine in collaboration with The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the White House Innovation Fellows.

Yep, that was a long string of words…

Who is Tufts University MedStart?

MedStart is a MD/MBA student-run organization dedicated to the cultivation and advancement of global entrepreneurship in healthcare. They held their first healthcare competition in the spring of 2013. This is their second go around at this.

Who is MIT H@cking Medicine?

MIT H@cking Medicine is a student-run organization dedicated to the mission of creating an ecosystem at MIT, hosting the Boston medical community and beyond to teach entrepreneurs and clinicians the skills necessary to launch disruptive healthcare businesses. They have been responsible for the Boston Children’s Hospital’s first ever hackathon, Hacking Pediatrics, and Brigham and Women’s Innovation Hub first ever hackathon. If you’re a follower of Boston hackathons, you will recognize the always peppy and super energized Co-Leader Andrea Ippolito who is always at the center of the activity.

MIT H@cking Medicing and Hacking Pediatrics

MIT H@cking Medicing and Hacking Pediatrics

What is The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC)?

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is a branch of the Office of the Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It was created to be a resource to the entire health system to support the adoption of health information technology and the promotion of nationwide health information exchange to improve health care.

On June 8, 2011, ONC announced  the launch of the Investing in Innovation (i2) Initiative, a bold new program designed to spur innovations in health IT. The program centers on prizes and competitions to accelerate the development of solutions and communities around key challenges in health IT.

This is not their first event. You can get their full list here.

Who are White House Innovation Fellows?

President Barack Obama said, “We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government.” And thus, the Presidential Innovation Fellows were born. It is a program that pairs top innovators from the private sector, non-profits, and academia with top innovators in government to collaborate during focused 6-13 month “tours of duty” to develop solutions that can save lives, save taxpayer money, and fuel job creation.

They launched the first round of five projects in August 2012, and Blue Button for America was one of their first projects.

Blue Button

What is this Blue Button, and how did it first start?

Lygeia Ricciadi, Director of Consumer eHealth with ONC explained it best. Below is an excerpt. The full story can be read here.

On the simplest level, Blue Button is a literal “button” appearing on many websites that lets consumers get their health information online. The Veterans Administration (VA) was first to display the Blue Button symbol on its patient portal in 2010, and veterans quickly embraced it. Then, as now, a veteran could click on the Blue Button icon to securely download their health information electronically. The VA’s definition of Blue Button specified a particular technical format (ASCII text or PDF), which enabled patients to read, print, or store their health records in a straightforward but bare bones way.

Soon, Blue Button spread beyond its VA roots to other government agencies and the private sector. It became so popular that last year leadership of the Blue Button initiative was transferred to ONC, which, as the “national coordinator” and champion of consumer engagement in health is well positioned to support its nationwide growth. The VA and other agencies continue to use Blue Button in practice and to help ONC improve it.

To encourage Blue Button’s growth and keep up with a rapidly changing technical environment, ONC has both loosened technical requirements for use of the Blue Button logo and developed voluntary guidelines for implementing Blue Button in a more structured way that is consistent with Meaningful Use requirements. The Blue Button Plus guidelines, which were developed collaboratively with 68 volunteer organizations, enable organizations such as doctors’ offices, hospitals, and payers to standardize the structure and transport of health information and electronic health records to support the use of more sophisticated tools that allow consumers to better share their Blue Buttoned-information with others they trust and plug them into in apps and tools. The Blue Button Plus technical guidelines also make it easier for consumers to get automatic updates to their health records (e.g. “set it and forget it”). There are ongoing opportunities to contribute to the development of additional standards guidelines associated with Blue Button for those who are interested.


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Listen to these Veterans talk about what they like about Blue Button!


And thus, this weekend will be the Boston Blue Button Innovation Challenge. You still have time to apply now!

Jennifer M. Joe, MD

Jennifer M. Joe, MD

    My passion is healthcare optimization, whether that is with innovation, making scientific discoveries, or improving delivery. I love bringing people and ideas together and making projects work. With this, medicine exists to improve lives, and I will strive to always help patients and those around me.

    1 Comment

    1. James Han says:

      blue button is great for vets but is the VA opening up their API to devs? How is this bi-directional? Which of the big EHR’s are parnters? Epic, Cerner, Meditech.

      Doesn’t really make sense to get data that you can’t act on..

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