Park defends plain-text format of ‘Blue Button’

Todd Park

Well, I guess everything else pales in comparison to the news late Sunday night that Osama bin Laden has been killed and that his body is in U.S. custody, but I had been meaning to bring you something from another part of the government. So now, nearly three hours after I sat down to start writing, here goes.

Remember back in February how I reported that the Blue Button Initiative that HHS, the VA and the Department of Defense had been touting was much ado about nothing because the add-on outputs data in plain, unstructured text that’s essentially useless when imported into an EHR? Well, government officials continue to defend it.

At the Microsoft Connected Health Conference last Wednesday in Chicago, HHS CTO Todd Park extolled the virtues of Blue Button, saying that it was a conscious decision on the part of the people behind the idea—particularly ex-Google and Microsoft star Adam Bosworth and author/Internet scholar Clay Shirky—to export patient information in untagged text format as a quick means of “liberating” data from proprietary systems. It then is up to the patient and his/her providers to decide what do do with the exported record.

“We decided that the burden shouldn’t have to be on the vendor to parse the data,” Park told me offstage.

Well, what do you think of that? Should Blue Button follow some established protocol that organizes data in discrete format like the Continuity of Care Record, Continuity of Care Document or Clinical Document Architecture, or is raw, unorganized text good enough?

UPDATE, 10:50 pm CDT: I found the rest of my notes and see that Park said 270,000 unique users have downloaded data through Blue Button, an average of three times each, even though the government hasn’t done much in the way of marketing. “Simplicity is the key,” he said.