Use of the Blue Button Online Tool for Sharing Health Information: Qualitative Interviews With Patients and Providers

J Med Internet Res. 2015 Aug 18;17(8):e199. doi: 10.2196/jmir.4595.


Background: Information sharing between providers is critical for care coordination, especially in health systems such as the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), where many patients also receive care from other health care organizations. Patients can facilitate this sharing by using the Blue Button, an online tool that promotes patients' ability to view, print, and download their health records.

Objective: The aim of this study was to characterize (1) patients' use of Blue Button, an online information-sharing tool in VA's patient portal, My HealtheVet, (2) information-sharing practices between VA and non-VA providers, and (3) how providers and patients use a printed Blue Button report during a clinical visit.

Methods: Semistructured qualitative interviews were conducted with 34 VA patients, 10 VA providers, and 9 non-VA providers. Interviews focused on patients' use of Blue Button, information-sharing practices between VA and non-VA providers, and how patients and providers use a printed Blue Button report during a clinical visit. Qualitative themes were identified through iterative rounds of coding starting with an a priori schema based on technology adoption theory.

Results: Information sharing between VA and non-VA providers relied primarily on the patient. Patients most commonly used Blue Button to access and share VA laboratory results. Providers recognized the need for improved information sharing, valued the Blue Button printout, and expressed interest in a way to share information electronically across settings.

Conclusions: Consumer-oriented technologies such as Blue Button can facilitate patients sharing health information with providers in other health care systems; however, more education is needed to inform patients of this use to facilitate care coordination. Additional research is needed to explore how personal health record documents, such as Blue Button reports, can be easily shared and incorporated into the clinical workflow of providers.

Keywords: care coordination; consumer health information technology; eHealth; health care providers; health record, personal; information sharing; meaningful use; qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Continuity of Patient Care / organization & administration*
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Electronic Health Records* / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination* / methods
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs