Written by William & Mary Law Student Haley Morton.

The VA Blue Button is a tool designed to compile veterans’ medical records all in one place. The stated goal behind the VA Blue Button is to make medical records more available to veterans so that veterans can supply them to their health care teams. All that is required is for a veteran to be a VA patient and have a Premium HealtheVet account. From this account, a veteran can access, download and print all of his or her medical records.[1] Though helpful on its surface, is this service really doing everything it purports?

Blue Button was launched in summer of 2010, but as late as 2014, some studies indicated that Blue Button was not widely used or recognized by veterans. In 2014, only one-third of veterans were using the service to access personal health records, and those that did reported dissatisfaction with the service.[2] In regards to use, the issue comes down to educational efforts; the VA must show it reaches out to vets so they know: (1) that the service is available to them, and (2) how to actually use the service.[3] Despite use problems, veterans that did use the service in 2014 reported that it helped them understand their health history because the information was located in one place.[4]

Arguably, a greater concern about current issues in the Blue Button system is the questionable transparency provided to the veterans. In short, veterans may not have complete access to their own records. In 2015, the VA made more records available to veterans through the Blue Button service, namely MRIs and X-Rays.  Additionally, the VA is working on a method for veterans to not only download the images but electronically send them to other healthcare providers through the website.[5] Despite the improvements, Blue Button still does not provide veterans with all records; veterans still must request copies “everything from their inpatient/outpatient electronic health record,” in order to provide them with the documents necessary to file a claim for benefits.[6]  This hurdle leads to other criticisms, particularly in the realm of transparency.  Some veterans are finding that they are not getting all information they are supposed to from Blue Button. For example, one attorney compared records he got from a VistA Program Note (the VA’s Electronic Health Records system) with a My HealtheVet VA Blue Button VA Note.[7]  While the first note contained 1,739 words, the Blue Button note had 583 words.  He noticed that the VA Blue Button report redacted information that might have been helpful to his claim.[8]  As a conclusion, he noted that the issue with Blue Button is that the VA says that it will provide “key portions of your VA health record,” but “the problem . . . is [that] we let VA decide what the key portions are.”[9]

Ultimately, the VA Blue Button system is better than a veteran having no electronic access to medical records. On one hand, a veteran can get a big picture view of his records and prepare himself to discuss his disabilities with his healthcare providers. However, this tool will likely be more effective when veterans can navigate the site with ease and access all records. Until then, our veterans will struggle to make sense of the confusion.

[1] VA Blue Button, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Aff., http://www.va.gov/bluebutton/ (last visited Apr. 28, 2016).

[2] Marla Durben Hirsch, VA: More Education Needed on Blue Button Initiative, FierceEMR (Apr. 23, 2014), http://www.fierceemr.com/story/va-more-education-needed-blue-button-initiative/2014-04-23.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Bryant Jordan, VA in Tests to Make X-Rays, Other Images Available to Veterans Online, Military.com (Apr. 24, 2015), http://www.military.com/daily-news/2015/04/24/va-in-tests-to-make-xrays-other-images-available-to-veterans.html.

[6] Id.

[7] Benjamin Krause, Is VA Misleading Veterans About ‘My HealtheVet’ Medical Records?, DisabledVeterans.Org, (Apr. 6, 2015), http://www.disabledveterans.org/2015/04/06/va-misleading-veterans-healthevet-medical-records/.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.