Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Leading Pharmacies and Retailers Join Blue Button Initiative

    Today, as part of the growing movement to help customers access and securely share their own health information, several of the Nation’s largest retail pharmacy chains and associations are pledging to support the Blue Button initiative—a public-private partnership between the health care industry and the Federal Government that aims to empower all Americans with access to their own electronic health information. These steps will help patients access their prescription information and further empower millions of Americans to better manage their healthcare.

    The concept behind Blue Button is simple: consumers should be able to securely access their own health information and share it with health care providers, caregivers, and others they trust. 

    In 2010, with the support of the White House, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) launched the Blue Button initiative to give veterans the ability to access and download their health records on a secure, online patient portal. Since then, the initiative has expanded and more than 150 million Americans today are able to use Blue Button-enabled tools to access their own health information from a variety of sources including healthcare providers, health insurance companies, medical labs, and state health information networks.

    An increasingly important part of the Blue Button initiative is making patient information available in secure, simple, standard formats to help spur the development of innovative consumer applications and devices that can help patients better manage their own health care and facilitate the electronic sharing of data with trusted partners, such as medical specialists who might not otherwise have direct access to relevant records.  

    That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC)—with input from more than 70 organizations—recently released “Blue Button+”, a set of technical guidelines to help providers structure their data in standardized machine-readable formats.  And the vast majority of doctors and hospitals will be working to use the Blue Button+ standards beginning this year as part of their participation in the Federal Electronic Health Record incentive program.

    In parallel, as part of today’s announcement, the following companies are committing to work over the next year towards standardizing patient prescription information to fuel the growth of private-sector applications and services that can add value to this basic health information:  

    ·         Walgreens, which currently provides its customers with the ability to view and download their prescription history from a Blue Button-branded online portal, plans to adopt BlueButton+ guidelines to make it easier for customers to easily and securely share their data with others, including third-party applications to help people better manage their health and coordinate their healthcare. Walgreens also recently announced a new partnership with the VA which gives veterans convenient, online access to a broader set of personal health data, including immunization records.  

    ·         Kroger, which provides approximately half of its customers access to their own pharmacy records through a secure online portal, will be launching a secure portal for the remainder of its stores, many of which operate under local banner names—including Smiths and Fry’s—in addition to developing new functionality that will enable all of its customers to download a copy of their records, and is exploring plans to provide customers with a machine-readable copy of their records that can be shared and uploaded into third-party applications and services.

    ·         CVS Caremark currently provides its customers with the ability to securely access and download their medication lists and prescription history, as well as refill prescriptions through its various online portals, including and

    ·         Rite Aid, through its MyPharmacy online portal, currently provides its customers with electronic access to their own prescription history, tools to better manage their prescriptions, and medication management reminders via phone, email or text message. Rite Aid has committed to improving patient engagement and empowerment through expanded access to their own health data and an evolving set of online service capabilities.

    ·         Safeway, one of the newest members of the Blue Button community, is committing to enable its customers to securely access and share their own electronic pharmacy records.

    The following national pharmacy associations are also joining the Blue Button initiative and committing to promote the adoption and use of Blue Button among the pharmacies they represent:

    ·         National Association Chain Drug Stores, which represents traditional drug stores, supermarkets, and mass merchants with pharmacies. Chains operate more than 41,000 pharmacies and employ more than 3.8 million employees, including 132,000 pharmacists.

    ·         Pharmacy Health IT Collaborative, which represents nine national pharmacy professional associations representing more than 250,000 members.

    ·         National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, which promotes leadership, sharing, learning, and policy exchange among state pharmacy associations and pharmacy leaders nationwide.

    These commitments from some of the Nation’s largest retail pharmacy chains and associations promise to provide a growing number of patients with easy and secure access to their own personal pharmacy prescription history and allow them to check their medication history for accuracy, access prescription lists from multiple doctors, and securely share this information with their healthcare providers.

    As companies move towards standard formats and the ability to securely transmit this information electronically, Americans will be able to use their pharmacy records with new innovative software applications and services that can improve medication adherence, reduce dosing errors, prevent adverse drug interactions, and save lives. The World Health Organization estimates that poor medication adherence alone costs the United States up to $300 billion dollars a year.

    In another important step, earlier this week HHS issued a rule allowing labs to provide patients or their representatives direct access to their test results upon request. Building on the availability of tools like Blue Button, patients will soon have expanded access to their own laboratory results, giving them critical information to track health care progress, spot errors, and make health decisions. Laboratories are encouraged to provide the lab results, at a patient’s request, in machine-readable formats, making the information usable in a variety of applications and health IT tools.

    The Blue Button initiative is one of several MyData Initiatives launched and supported by the Administration to provide Americans with secure access to their personal data in useful, digital formats.

    For more information about Blue Button, including ways you can participate, please visit:, or view a fact sheet on key milestones here

    Nick Sinai is U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
    Adam Dole is a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


  • Mentoring Tomorrow’s STEM Innovators

    Barbara Deschamp considers herself one of the lucky ones. When asked what advice she would pass on to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students looking for a mentor, she said: “I’m actually lucky because my mentor found me!” Barbara was mentored by one of a select cohort of past winners of a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM)—bestowed by the President upon extraordinary Americans who are guiding and shaping the next generation of STEM innovators through mentorship.

    Last week, marking the close of National Mentoring Month in January, the National Science Foundation (NSF) hosted a Google+ Hangout that convened past PAESMEM winners to share ideas and best practices for engaging students from underrepresented groups in STEM fields.

    In addition to Barbara, who is a Ph.D. candidate in the Electrical and Computer Engineering program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and her mentor, Charles Thompson, the Hangout invited NSF and OSTP officials and other past PAESMEM winners to tell their own mentorship stories, including Frank Bayliss of San Francisco State University’s Department of Biology; Sheryl Burgstahler of the University of Washington’s College of Education; and Lesia Crumpton-Young from the University of Central Florida’s Department of Engineering.

    These all-star STEM mentors discussed the experiences that shaped their careers, and how they are paying it forward by providing mentorship to their own students.

    Frank Bayliss, for example, was the first in his family to attend college, let alone pursue a PhD. He likened his experience to “going into a jungle without a machete, without a compass, no water filter, no idea what I was doing and getting lost.” He then explained, “mentoring is kind of like being a guide,” and along with the other participants emphasized the necessity of mentorship in helping students, especially those from underrepresented communities, navigate the many steps and phases of pursuing a career in STEM fields.  As NSF Assistant Director Joan Ferrini-Mundy—who leads the agency’s Education and Human Resources Directorate—pointed out, research in this area has provided evidence that mentoring is, in fact, a key part of keeping diverse students engaged.

  • President Obama Welcomes 2013 Fermi Award Winners to the White House

    Fermi Award Greet

    President Barack Obama meets with 2013 Fermi Award recipients Professor Allen J. Bard, left, and Dr. Andrew Sessler in the Oval Office, Feb. 3, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Today, President Obama and the US Department of Energy honored two exceptional scientists whose long and productive research careers earned them one of the Nation’s oldest and most prestigious honors for scientific achievement: the Enrico Fermi Award.

    Bestowed annually upon a select few of the Nation’s most outstanding scientists, the Fermi Award recognizes individuals for their distinguished leadership, accomplishments, and service related to science and research supported by the Energy Department. Established in 1956, the award is named in honor of the Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who in 1942 achieved the first nuclear chain reaction, initiating the atomic age.

    This afternoon, President Obama greeted the latest winners: Dr. Allen J. Bard, of The University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. Andrew Sessler of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  OSTP Director John Holdren introduced the winners in the Oval Office, along with Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz. Later in the day, the awardees were honored at a formal ceremony at the Energy Department headquarters.

    Dr. Bard, known by many as the “father of modern electrochemistry,” helped lay the groundwork for critical advances in batteries, fuel cells, and solar photoelectrochemistry—work that has emerged as having great importance in the modern field of renewable energy. Dr. Bard’s scientific achievements previously earned him the National Medal of Science, the American Chemical Society’s Priestly Medal, the Welch Foundation Award in Chemistry, and the Wolf Foundation Prize. His research has led to the publication of more than 850 peer-reviewed papers, 75 book chapters, and 23 patents, and he has served as a mentor and collaborator to 83 Ph.D. students, 18 M.S. students, 190 postdoctoral associates, and many more young scientists.

    Dr. Sessler has worked extensively to promote energy efficiency and sustainable energy research and was a pioneer in the development and use of atomic particle accelerators as powerful tools of scientific discovery. Dr. Sessler’s advocacy in the field of energy efficiency research dates back to the 1950s and 1960s at the Atomic Energy Commission and the Energy Department; later, as the Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, he established new divisions for energy and environmental research. He is widely recognized for his fierce advocacy in support of scientific freedom and for human rights of scientists around the globe.

    In a landscape shifting and evolving as rapidly as the energy sector is today, it is vitally important that the United States continues to lead in energy-related scientific research and innovation. OSTP salutes these two Fermi Award winners, not only for the remarkable impacts they have had in their respective fields but also for the influence they have had—and the inspiration they have showered—on countless other scientists.

    Fae Jencks is a Confidential Assistant at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy 

  • National Commission Begins Work to Strengthen Forensic Science

    This morning, the National Forensic Science Commission , a new Federal Advisory Committee jointly chaired by the Department of Justice and the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, is meeting for the first time to begin its important work of strengthening the forensic sciences.  OSTP Director John Holdren will welcome the Commission to underscore the White House’s support for this important effort and to encourage the group to take full advantage of its unique opportunity to make a difference in this challenging arena of science and policy.

    The standing up of the Commission is one of a series of efforts this Administration has undertaken to improve the forensic sciences, which span across a wide range of disciplines from DNA and fingerprints, to tire and tread marks, to ballistics, handwriting, and trace-chemical analyses.  This morning, OSTP released a progress report on some of Administration’s achievements in the domains of forensic science research, practice, and policy that promise to undergird and complement the Commission’s work. 

    The Commission’s members—an  impressive array of stakeholders with a breadth of expertise and experience—are  well poised to take on the challenging tasks outlined in the Commission’s Charter, which include providing recommendations and advice to the Department of Justice concerning strategies for strengthening the validity and reliability of the forensic sciences, enhancing quality assurance and quality control in forensic labs, and identifying and recommending protocols for evidence collection, analysis, and reporting. 

  • STEM...and the Super Bowl!

    President Obama has stressed time and again that the health and longevity of America’s economy and environment depends in large part on the acceleration of the kinds of innovations that lead to new breakthrough technologies, inspire new industries, and safeguard our communities. 

    In his State of the Union Address just last week, the President said:

    “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.  This is an edge America cannot surrender.”

    That’s why the Obama Administration is taking steps to ensure that the Nation’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce is equipped with the education and skills to discover, create, and invent. And the Federal Government isn’t acting alone. Partners in the private sector, non-profit organizations, philanthropies, colleges and universities, and in State and local governments are stepping up across the country to do their part—by developing mentorship programs, leading extra-curricular activities, and contributing their time, resources, and talents to help get kids inspired and engaged in all things STEM.

    Ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, I had a chance to catch up with one such partner, who is harnessing his football fame to highlight the importance of STEM education: New York Giants wide-receiver Victor Cruz.  Here’s what he had to say:

  • Second Annual White House Safety Datapalooza

    Earlier this month, more than 300 public safety stakeholders from the private, nonprofit, and academic sectors participated in the Second Annual White House Safety Datapalooza. The event showcased innovators who have utilized freely available government data to build products, services, and apps aimed at empowering Americans with information to make smarter, safer choices— from the vehicles we drive to patterns of crime in our neighborhoods to the products we buy and the food we eat.

    At the event, top officials from across the Administration discussed how Federal agencies are working to tap into the power of open data to advance public safety in creative and powerful ways. Announcements and new commitments from the public and private sector included:

    • The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs highlighted a new Application Programming Interface (API) that allows developers to integrate Travel Warning and Travel Alert datasets into websites and mobile applications, including tourism guides and online travel websites, so that U.S. citizens have information about international travel risks—such as health alerts, ongoing crime and violence, or frequent terrorist attacks.
    • The White House, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of Energy launched standardized hashtags (#PowerLineDown #NoFuel and #GotFuel ) to enable citizens to report important emergency information, such as downed power lines or whether a gas station has fuel, across social media platforms during a disaster. The Weather Channel has committed to publicizing these hashtags to its 100 million+ web visitors and TV viewers. Geofeedia, a social media monitoring service, committed to offering a free version of their service to first responders, disaster survivors, utility companies, and Federal, state, and local governments.