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New Medicare Tool to Enhance Access to Health Records

App will put data at beneficiaries’ fingertips

Mature couple using a laptop at home

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Beneficiaries enrolled in traditional Medicare will have access to new online applications that will allow for easier transfer of medical information.

En español | Medicare officials on Tuesday announced the launch of the next generation of technology designed to allow patients to share an array of medical information with doctors and other health care providers.

Blue Button 2.0 is intended to empower Medicare beneficiaries by giving them more information and control over who gets access to their health data. Blue Button, which began in 2010, allows patients to download a copy of their claims data. The upgraded version will let them download and share a wider array of information. For example, beneficiaries will have access to four years of data from Medicare parts A, B and D as well as prescriptions, primary-care treatments and procedures that they can share with providers. The information may help prevent unnecessary testing and encourage continuity of care, say officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

“Having access to their medical information will help them make decisions about their care and have a better understanding of their health,” Seema Verma, administrator of the CMS, said Tuesday in a speech in Las Vegas.

Only beneficiaries enrolled in traditional Medicare will have access to Blue Button 2.0, but Verma called on all health care insurers to give their members access to their claims data in a digital format.  “Today, we are calling on private health plans to join us in sharing their data with patients, because enabling patients to control their Medicare data so that they can quickly obtain and share it is critical to creating more patient empowerment,” she said in her prepared remarks.

Blue Button 2.0 is part of MyHealthEData, a government-wide initiative Verma also announced Tuesday that is designed to give all Americans more control over their health data and provide researchers with vital information. The initiatives are intended to help doctors and other health care providers get a patient’s entire medical history, not just disjointed pieces of it, so they can better coordinate care.

“MyHealthEData will unleash data to trigger innovation and advance research to cure diseases and provide more evidence-based treatment guidelines that ultimately will drive down costs and improve health outcomes,” Verma said. These initiatives are expected to bolster research by encouraging Medicare’s millions of patients to share their data with those conducting medical studies.

Developers, using mock patient data, are working on apps to build the software needed for the tool. CMS officials did not say when these apps will be available to beneficiaries. When fully up and running, Blue Button 2.0 will be available to Medicare beneficiaries through their accounts at MyMedicare.gov. For security reasons, the system won’t transmit Social Security or Medicare numbers or the patients’ dates of birth.

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