Northrop Grumman to Release Mobile Blue Button for Veterans at HIMSS 2014 Conference

Northrop Grumman is going to release a major upgrade to its Mobile Blue Button for Veterans app during next week's Annual Exhibition and Conference of the Health Information Management  Systems Society (HIMSS) in Orlando, Florida, according to Jennifer Treger, Director for Northrop Grumman’s Veterans and Military Health Programs. The upgraded app, called the Mobile Blue Button for Veterans has a modified look and feel and has significantly enhanced capabilities. Treger told Open Health News that the app “will be modernized to look and work like a standard app that you would obtain from any online app store."

The company will demonstrate this enhanced version of its Blue Button app during the conference. Following its release, the app will be available initially in the Apple App Store and Android's Google Play Store. Treger explained that the initial objective is to “get the news of the new app out in the public and listen to people’s feedback and help them start using it.” Downloading and using the app requires that the veteran be registered with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) MyHealtheVet personal health record (PHR) system. Northrop Grumman’s new Blue Button will give Vets the ability to access their personal health information using an updated user interface that works with both tablets and smartphones.

According to Treger, Northrop Grumman plans to continue making technological innovations to the app “that will allow the patient to communicate with their clinician directly to schedule appointments,” adding that these advances “will enable the veteran to interact with their coordinated care clinical team as well as integrate with other data sources.”

Treger points out, “Today the Blue Button is largely a one-way transaction.  Plans are to build the Mobile Blue Button for Veterans that will create ways to communicate bi-directionally, increasing the ability to communicate back and forth on veterans’ needs.” She added that at present, “Northrop Grumman is exploring with veterans through individual interviews their preferences and needs for increasing their own mobile personal health management capabilities.”

Since the Blue Button was initially created in 2010, it has been widely adopted and there has been an explosion of applications that expand the usability of the product.  Treger explained that the competitive environment for advancing Blue Button is advantageous to users. She said, “Through innovations in technology, mHealth and the demand from consumers and customers, we will continue to see a natural e-Marketplace evolution that drives collaboration, as innovators look to increase their mobility and strive to develop and deliver innovative solutions such as the Mobile Blue Button App.”

Press reports appear regularly on the opportunities that have opened for expanding Blue Button industry wide. Treger pointed out, "Northrop Grumman supports developing and bringing capabilities to other agencies to meet the needs related to consumer populations.” Indeed, as the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) emphasizes, the Blue Button symbol is becoming a rallying cry for change--a shorthand way of referring to the growing reality and future potential of consumer and patient engagement supported by better health information and tools.

According to Treger, Northrop Grumman understands that the Obama administration’s initiative to advance open data policies is creating economic value for business innovators, consumers and clinicians. She said that her team “is committed to supporting our Veterans and  that includes the Mobile Blue Button for Veterans.”  Further, “We are living in a mobile era and we value providing secure and integrated health IT mobile solutions to increase accessibility to personal health data,” adding that “one way we are doing this is through advancing and enhancing Mobile Blue Button for Veterans to be in-line with user expectations and today’s mobile world.”

Analysis by MarketsAndMarkets research company shows That the overall the mobile healthcare market is highly fragmented.  The mobile health apps market accordingly is classified into health and medical apps. The market is dominated by health apps with more than 85% volume contribution to the healthcare application market. In the future, the government’s open data policies and platforms, open APIs as well as open smart and wireless computing broadband environments, hold promise for converging an organized e-Marketplace for the Blue Button movement and mHealth industry innovation.

Veterans and consumers generally are using the Blue Button app now for engaging in healthcare more fully empowered with their own data.  Under the influence of ONC, Blue Button is being adopted nation-wide. Blue Button adoption spread widely since 2010 with other government agencies, and private sctor companies such as as UnitedHealthCare and Aetna, providing Blue Button to their consumers.

The Blue Button Plus effort launched last year advanced the implementation standards, tools, and services associated with the Blue Button to provide consumers with automated updates to their health information in a human readable and machine readable format.  Seventeen apps and tools are available to consumers that use structured Blue Button Plus data. More details on the Blue Button Plus can be found here

The momentum for the Blue Button initiative continues to build.Last week Walgreens, Kroger, CVS Caremark, Rite Aid and Safeway pledged to support the Blue Button and develop ways to allow customers to more easily access their records.

Northrop Grumman has been working on this mobile Blue Button app for four years. Working in collaboration with the Northern Virginia company NetVision Resources, it successfully delivered the first Blue Button mobile application for the VA in December 2010. The Northrop Grumman Health IT Team that worked on this project included Thomas Verbeck, former USAF Brigadier General and Chief Technology Officer,  Ganesh Rajagopol, Chief Architect, Chris Ayers as the Manager for the Project, as well as myself (in my role as Senior Health IT Advisor at the time).  Verbeck who conveived the initial mobile Blue Button app in 48 hours after sseing the work on MyHealtheVet commented, "The VA was so excited that we delivered what we disabled Vets really need, a mobile app we can take with us to the doctors office."

The original app represented an innovation for federal mHealth that allowed military veterans to access and download their personal health records on their handheld mobile devices running on Apple iOS and Android platforms.  Northrop Grumman’s Blue Button for MyHealtheVet specified the ASCII text or PDF technical format which enabled patients to read, print, or store their health records in a straightforward but simplified approach.

When the Northrop Grumman team initially demonstrated the original Blue Button for MyHealtheVet, labeled VA 214 Blue Button, for VA’s chief technology officer he was wowed stating, “We’re falling off our chairs here at VA Central Office.” The original mobile app was  delivered just 40 days after the project began.

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