Millions of federal employees, retirees and their families will soon be able to benefit from a software tool developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs that allows individuals to download their personal health data from the websites of their health plans.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said it has asked all health insurance carriers who participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) to add the tool, known as the “Blue Button” and its functions to personal health record systems on their websites. OPM made the request Dec. 19, 2011, but announced the move publicly Jan. 18.

The Blue Button initiative is one of a number of number of innovative ideas underway at the VA. The tool enable patients to access and keep track of their personal health data, and be able to share their data with their physicians or family members. The simplicity of the tool has attracted commercial health care insurers who now license the Blue Button tool.

A license is needed to use the Blue Button Marks, which VA offers at However, there is no cost associated with the license, OPM said in a notice to FEHBP carriers.

OPM reports that since 2010, there are now:

  • more than 250,000 Blue Button users associated with the Defense Department
  • more than 350,000 Blue Button users associated with the VA
  • 47 million Medicare beneficiaries with access to Blue Button

Blue Button partners also include a growing roster of companies, including Microsoft, Northrup Grumman and LinkedIn.

According to a report issued in September, 2011, OPM said it found that 97 percent of all FEHBP carriers representing 98 percent of enrollees were offering some form of personal health records to their members. About three out of four of FEHBP carriers include medical claims or health record information in PHR data, the report found.

“Blue Button empowers hundreds of thousands of patients with their own data,” said Aneesh Chopra, U.S. chief technology officer. “We want federal employees, their families – and the general public – to benefit from easy access to Blue Button downloads as it rapidly scales to become a routine service in the care delivery system.”

“All health plans already have claims and personal health information in their databases, and virtually all FEHBP health plans currently offer a personal health record to their members,” said OPM director John Berry.

“Adding Blue Button will make these records more readable, more accessible, and more useful to patients and families. This easy access to lab results, medication and problem lists, allergies, appointment data and wellness reminders makes care both easier and better,” he said.

FEHBP insurers that don’t already offer Blue Button downloads must notify OPM of their plans to add it to their personal health records by March 15, 2012.

“Blue Button is about patient-centered care,” said Peter L. Levin, VA’s chief technology officer, who was instrumental in fostering the Blue Button initiative. (Read more abouit Levin in AOL Government’s feature profile story earlier this week.lth benefits to more than eight million employees, retirees and family members.